Tag Archives: Myth

Life in the Past, Present, and Future: A Reflection on Life and Faith in the Age of Trump

Matt-Frewer-as-Berlingoff-Rasmussen-TNG-A-Matter-of-Time-7

Friends at Padre Steve’s World,

I tend to become somewhat reflective as the New Year approaches. I am reminded of Peter Benchley, who wrote, “The past always seems better when you look back on it than it did at the time. And the present never looks as good as it will in the future.” Likewise, St Augustine of Hippo once asked “How can the past and future be, when the past no longer is, and the future is not yet?”

Augustine’s question is interesting, but I think that his question is flawed. I think that the past lives in the present much more than we would like to think and that our future, though unwritten can unfold in a multitude of ways and possibilities. We have seen that over the past two years with the campaign and presidency of Donald Trump and how the illusion of a mythical past has driven many ordinary people to support a man who despises them, all because he appeals to certain parts of a shared mythology about the past which sadly is often too racist to imagine. As the conservative writer and historian Max Boot noted today:

“The larger problem of racism in our society was made evident in Donald Trump’s election, despite — or because of — his willingness to dog-whistle toward white nationalists with his pervasive bashing of Mexicans, Muslims, and other minorities. Trump even tried to delegitimize the first African-American president by claiming he wasn’t born in this country, and now he goes after African-American football players who kneel during the playing of the anthem to protest police brutality. (Far from being concerned about police misconduct, which disproportionately targets people of color, Trump actively encourages it.)”

But politics aside, many of us live in the past as if it were today. We, individually and collectively, as individuals and nations live in the past and look to it much more fondly than when it was our present. I think that historian Will Durant possibly said it the best: “The past is not dead. Indeed, it is often not even past.”

As a historian myself I value the past and seek answers and wisdom from it to use in the present because what we do in the present does, for better or worse defines our future. Confucius said “study the past if you would define the future.” He was quite wise, he said to study the past did not say to live in it.

That is something that I have been learning for close to 25 years now when my Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor, using a Star Trek Next Generation metaphor from the episode A Matter of Time helped me to begin to recognize just how much the past impinged on my own life. In that episode a shadowy visitor claiming to be from the future refuses to help the Captain and crew of the Enterprise, claiming that if he were to help that his “history – would unfold in a way other than it already has.”

Finally Captain Picard is forced to make a decision and confronts the visitor, who turns out to be, not a historian from the future but a con-artist and thief from the past who was using time travel with a stolen space ship to collect technology to enrich himself. Picard refused the mans help and told him:

“A person’s life, their future, hinges on each of a thousand choices. Living is making choices! Now, you ask me to believe that if I make a choice other than the one that appears in your history books, then your past will be irrevocably altered. Well… you know, Professor, perhaps I don’t give a damn about your past, because your past is my future, and as far as I’m concerned, it hasn’t been written yet!”

My residency supervisor suggested to me that my future did not have to be my past, and in doing so opened a door of life and faith that I had never experienced before and which showed me that life was to be boldly lived in the present. While it meant a lot then, it means more now for the past according to William Shakespeare “is prologue.”

We cannot help being influenced by the past. I admit that I am. That being said we should indeed learn from from our past but we cannot remain in the past or try to return to it. Kierkegaard said that “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Since I am a Christian, at least by profession, my faith in that future is in the God who is eternal, the God of love. Victor Hugo in Les Miserables said “Love is the only future God offers.” That is the future that I want to envision.

Living is making choices and the future hinges on thousands of them. Many of these choices we make automatically without thought simply because we have always done them that way, or because that is how it was done in the past. However, if we want to break the cycle, if we want to live in and envision that future of the God of love then we have to live in the present though the past lives in us.

T.S. Elliot penned this verse:

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, History, News and current events, Political Commentary, star trek

The Context of History, Memory & War

16-2 Gettysburg Staff Ride, May 2016-37

With my Students at Little Round Top

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As always I have been doing a lot of reading and of course that has led me to do some more revisions to my Civil War and Gettysburg text. I re-wrote the introduction to the first chapter in order to talk about the nature and role of history in understanding who we are as a people today. The section is part of a chapter that is now over 150 pages long and probably will become a book in its own right. Of course this section, and the rest of the chapter will likely be worked on some more in the coming months but I think that you will like it.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

“No one is so sure of his premises as the man who knows too little.” [1]

Barbara Tuchman

Finite human beings find themselves bound by time and space, we live in the present, but not the present alone, but rather three worlds: one that is, one that was, and one that will be. Ernst Breisach wrote, “In theory we know these three worlds as separate concepts but we experience as inextricably linked and influencing each other in many ways. Every new and important discovery about the past changes how we think about the present and what we expect of the future; on the other hand every change in the conditions of the present and in the expectations of the future revises our perception of the past. In this complex context history is born ostensibly as reflection of the past; a reflection which is never isolated from the present and the future. History deals with human life as it “flows” through time.” [2]

Richard Evans wrote something in the preface to his book The Third Reich in History and Memory that those who study military history often forget. He noted: “Military history, as this volume shows, can be illuminating in itself, but also needs to be situated in a larger economic and cultural context. Wherever we look, at decision making at the top, or at the inventiveness and enterprise of second rank figures, wider contextual factors remained vital.” [3] Thus while this work is an examination of the Gettysburg campaign it is important to understand the various issues that were formative for the men who directed and fought the battle, as well as the vast continuum of often distant and seemingly events that come together at one time in the lives of the participants in any historic event.

One cannot understand the determination the determination of Robert E. Lee to maintain the offensive, the dogged persistence of Joshua Chamberlain or Strong Vincent to hold Little Round Top, what brought John Buford to McPherson’s Ridge, what motivated Daniel Sickles to move Third Corps to the Peach Orchard, and what motivated the men of Pickett’s division to advance to their death on Cemetery Ridge, without understanding the broader perspective of history, as well as how culture, politics, economics, religion, sociology, ideology, experience, and  that shaped these men and their actions.

Likewise in order to understand the context of this battle, or for that matter any battle in any war, one has to understand the events, ever distant events which play a role in the battle. All too often those that delve into military history, or a particular battle see that as separate event, often disconnected from other historical events. But as historian Edward Steers Jr. correctly notes, history “does not exist in a series of isolated events like so many sound bites in a newscast. It is a continuum of seemingly unrelated and distant events that so often come together in one momentous collision of time.” [4] In the case of Gettysburg events like Lincoln’s publication of the Emancipation Proclamation, the failure of Confederate diplomacy to bring France or Great Britain into the war or at least to recognize the Confederacy, the failures of the Confederate armies in the West to maintain their hold on the Mississippi River, all play a crucial role in Robert E. Lee’s ill-advised decision to launch an invasion of Pennsylvania. Additionally, the loss of so many key leaders in the Army of Northern Virginia, especially that of Stonewall Jackson impacts how Lee manages the campaign, and shows up at numerous crucial points in the battle.

Another element that must be connected in order to understand the Battle of Gettysburg is the part that policy, strategy, war aims and operational doctrine played in the campaign of 1863 and how those influenced the decisions of participants before, during and after the campaign. Finally, the Battle of Gettysburg cannot be looked at as a stand-alone event. What happens there as the Confederacy surges to and ebbs back from its “high water mark” influences the rest of the While the war would go on for nearly two more years, the Union victory at Gettysburg coupled with the victory of Grant at Vicksburg ensured that the Confederacy, no matter how hard it tried would not be able to gain its independence through military means.

Maybe even more importantly the story of Gettysburg is its influence today. The American Civil War was America’s greatest crisis. It was a crisis that that “has cast such a shadow over the relations between the North and the South that the nation’s identity and its subsequent history have been considerably influenced by it.” [5]

The Battle of Gettysburg itself is enshrined in American history and myth and is woven deeply into the story of the nation. In this narrative the Battle of Gettysburg is often different ways; in the North viewed as a victory that brings an end to the institution of slavery, and freedom for enslaved African Americans, and preserves the Union. In the South it is often part of the myth of the Noble Confederacy and the Lost Cause where the South was defeated by the Northern superiority in men and war making ability.

Yet in both cases, the truth is not so simple; in fact it is much more complex, and the truth is we are still in the process of learning from and interpreting the historical records of the events that led to the American Civil War, the war itself, and the aftermath. They are all connected and for that matter still influence Americans today more than any other era of our history. In fact James McPherson who is one of the nation’s preeminent scholars on the Civil War and Reconstruction wrote,

“I became convinced that I could not fully understand the issues of my own time unless I learned about their roots in the era of the Civil War: slavery and its abolition; the conflict between North and South; the struggle between state sovereignty and the federal government; the role of the government in social change and resistance to both government and social change. These issues are as salient and controversial today as they were in the 1960s, not to mention the 1860s.” [6]

The prolific American military historian Russel Weigley wrote of how the war, and in particular how the Battle of Gettysburg changed the American Republic.

“The Great Civil War gave birth to a new and different American Republic, whose nature is to be discovered less in the Declaration of Independence than in the Address Delivered at the Dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. The powerful new Republic shaped by the bayonets of the Union Army of the Civil War wears a badge less benign aspect than the older, original American Republic. But it also carries a larger potential to do good for “the proposition that all men are created equal” both at home and around the world.” [7]

Thus it is important for Americans to learn about the Battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War, but not solely for its military significance, nor for clear cut answers or solutions. The fact is that “situations in history may resemble contemporary ones, but they are never exactly alike, and it is a foolish person who tries blindly to approach a purely historical solution to a contemporary problem. Wars resemble each other more than they resemble other human activities, but similarities can be exaggerated.” [8]  As Michael Howard warned, “the differences brought about between one war and another by social or technological changes are immense, and an unintelligent study of military history which does not take into account these changes may quite easily be more dangerous than no study at all. Like the statesman, the soldier has to steer between the dangers of repeating the errors of the past because his is ignorant that they have been made, and of remaining bound by theories deduced from past history although changes in conditions have rendered these theories obsolete.” [9] The ideal that we reach for is to understand the Battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War in context, which includes understanding what led to the war as well as the period of Reconstruction, and the post-Reconstruction era. In doing so we attempt to draw lessons from it without making the mistake of assuming that what we learn and know about them is immutable and thus not subject to change, for the past influences the present, even as the present and future will influence how we view and interpret the past.

Notes

[1] Tuchman, Barbara The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam Random House Publish Group, New York 2011 p.319

[2] Breisach, Ernst, Historiography: Ancient, Mediaeval & Modern University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London 1983 and 1994 p.2

[3] Evans, Richard J. The Third Reich in History and Memory Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2015 p.ix

[4] Steers, Edward Jr. Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln The University of Kentucky Press, Lexington 2001 p.5

[5] Perman, Michael and Murrell Taylor, Amy editors The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.3

[6] McPherson, James The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2015 p.4

[7] Weigley, Russell F. A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History 1861-1865 Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 2000 p.xviii

[8] Griess, Thomas E. A Perspective on Military History in A Guide to the Study and Use of Military History edited by John E. Jessup Jr. and Robert Coakley, Center for Military History, United States Army, 1982 p.33

[9] Howard, Michael. The Use and Abuse of Military History  in Journal of the Royal United Service Institution 107 (1962):7

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, Gettysburg, History

Busting National Myths

In light of the many historical myths and conspiracy theories being floated by pseudo “historians” like the infamous David Barton it is always appropriate to look at examples of the power of those myths in the lives of nations and their influence on citizens. Some myths can be positive and inspiring, but others can lead to conspiracy theories, false accusations and the demonization of others for the purpose of inciting hatred against political, social or religious opponents. They also can be used to perpetuate false beliefs about other countries that influence policy decisions, including the decision to go to war that ultimately doom those that believe them.

A good example of this is the Stab in the Back myth that began after the armistice that ended the First World War, as well as the false beliefs held by Hitler and other Nazi leaders about the United States.

There are many times in history where leaders of nations and peoples embrace myths about their history even when historical, biographical and archeological evidence points to an entirely different record.

Myths are powerful in the way that they inspire and motivate people. They can provide a cultural continuity as a people celebrates the key events and people that shaped their past, even if they are not entirely true.  At the same time myths can be dangerous when they cause leaders and people to make bad choices and actually become destructive. Such was the case in Germany following the First World War.

After the war the certain parts of the German political right posited that the German Army was not defeated by the Allied powers, but was betrayed by the German people, especially those of the political left. But such was not the case the German Army was on the verge of collapse.

Like all myths there was an element of truth in the “stab in the back” myth. It is true that there were revolts against the Monarchy of Kaiser Wilhelm II, including the mutiny  of the German High Seas Fleet, as well as Army units stationed in Germany. However, in truth, the crisis had been brought about by General Ludendorff who until the last month of the war refused to tell the truth about the gravity of Germany’s position to those in the German government.

So when everything came crashing down in late October and early November 1918, the debacle came as a surprise to most Germans.

The myth arose because the truth had not been told by Ludendorff who was arguably the most powerful figure in Germany from 1916-1918.  In the crisis which Ludendorff suffered what could be called an emotional collapse and  was relieved of his duty. His successor, General Wilhelm Groener presented the facts to the Kaiser and insisted that the Kaiser Wilhelm abdicate his throne.

The Republic that was proclaimed on the 9th of November was saddled with the defeat and endured revolution, civil war and threats from the extreme left and right.  When it signed the Treaty of Versailles it accepted the sole responsibility of Germany for the war and its damages because to not sign was to have the Allies resume the war against Germany.

The treaty required the Germany to dismantle its military, cede territory that had not been lost in battle, and pay massive reparations to the Allies. The  legend of the “stab in the back” gained widespread acceptance in Germany during the chaotic years of the Weimar Republic.

Hitler always believed that the defeat of Germany in the First World War was due to the efforts of internal enemies of the German Reich on the home front and not due to battlefield losses or the entry of the United States.  He made the “stab in the back” a staple of his attacks on the Republic. This was expressed in his writings, speeches and actions.

The internal enemies of Germany for Hitler included the Jews, as well as the Socialists and Communists who he believed were at the heart of the collapse on the home front.  Gerhard Weinberg believes that the effect of this misguided belief on Hitler’s actions has “generally been ignored” by historians. (Germany, Hitler and World War II p. 196)

Hitler believed that those people and groups that perpetrated the “stab in the back” were “beguiled by the by the promises of President Wilson” (World in the Balance p.92) in his 14 Points.

Thus for Hitler, the Americans were in part responsible for undermining the German home front, something that he would not allow to happen again.  In fact Hitler characterization of Wilson’s effect on the German people in speaking about South Tyrol.  It is representative of his belief about not only the loss of that region but the war: “South Tyrol was lost by those who, from within Germany, caused attrition at the front, and by the contamination of German thinking with the sham declarations of Woodrow Wilson.” (Hitler’s Second Book p.221)

While others will note Hitler’s lack of respect for the potential power of the United States, no other author that I am familiar with links Hitler’s actions and the reaction of the German political, military and diplomatic elites to the entry of the United States into the war to the underlying belief in the “stab in the back.”   Likewise Hitler had little regard for the military abilities or potential of the United States. Albert Speer notes that Hitler believed “the Americans had not played a very prominent role in the war of 1914-1918,” and that “they would certainly not withstand a great trial by fire, for their fighting qualities were low.” (Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer p.121)

Hitler not only dismissed the capabilities of the Americans but also emphasized the distance that they were from Germany and saw no reason to fear the United States when “he anticipated major victories on the Eastern Front.” (Germany Hitler and World War II p.92)   Hitler’s attitude was reflected by the majority of the military high command and high Nazi officials. Ribbentrop believed that the Americans would be unable to wage war if it broke out “as they would never get their armies across the Atlantic.” (History of the German General Staff, Walter Goerlitz, p.408).  General Walter Warlimont notes the “ecstasy of rejoicing” found at Hitler’s headquarters after Pearl Harbor and the fact that the he and Jodl at OKW caught by surprise by Hitler’s declaration of war. (Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-1945 pp.207-209) Kenneth Macksey noted Warlimont’s comments about Hitler’s beliefs; that Hitler “tended to dismiss American fighting qualities and industrial capability,” and that Hitler “regarded anyone who tried to show him such information [about growing American strength] as defeatist.” (Why the Germans Lose at War, Kenneth Macksey, p.153.)

Others like Field Marshal Erwin Rommel wrote about the disregard of senior Nazis toward American capabilities in weaponry.  Quoting Goering who when Rommel discussed 40mm anti-aircraft guns on aircraft that were devastating his armored forces Goering replied “That’s impossible. The Americans only know how to make razor blades.” (The Rommel Papers edited by B.H. Liddell-Hart p.295)

Rommel was one of the few German commanders who recognized the folly of Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States noting that “By declaring war on America, we had brought the entire American industrial potential into the service of Allied war production. We in Africa knew all about the quality of its achievements.” (The Rommel Papers p.296)

When one also takes into account the general disrespect of the German military for the fighting qualities of American soldiers though often with good reason (see Russell Weigley’s books Eisenhower’s Lieutenants and The American Way of War) one sees how the myth impacted German thought.  This is evidenced by the disparaging comments of the pre-war German military attaché to the United States; General Boeticher, on the American military, national character and capability. (See World in the Balance pp. 61-62)

The overall negative view held by many Germans in regard to the military and industrial power and potential of the United States reinforced other parts of the myth.

Such false beliefs served to bolster belief in the stab-in-the back theory as certainly the Americans could not have played any important role in the German defeat save Wilson’s alleged demoralization of the German population.  This was true not only of Hitler, but by most of his retinue and the military, diplomatic and industrial leadership of the Reich. Hitler’s ultimate belief shaped by the stab-in-the back and reinforced by his racial views which held the United States to be an inferior mongrel people. This led him to disregard the impact that the United States could have in the war and ultimately influenced his decision to declare war on the United States, a decision that would be a key factor in the ultimate defeat of Germany.

Myth can have positive value, but myth which becomes toxic can and often does lead to tragic consequences. All societies have some degree of myth in relationship to their history including the United States.  The myths are not all the same, various subgroups within the society create their own myth surrounding historic events.

The danger is that those myths can supplant reason in the minds of political, military, media and religious figures and lead those people into taking actions that work to their own detriment or even destruction.

It is the duty of historians, philosophers and others in the society to ensure that myth does not override reality to the point that it moves policy both domestic and foreign in a manner that is ultimately detrimental to the nation.

The lesson of history demonstrated by myths surrounding the German defeat and role of the United States in that defeat shows just how myth can drive a nation to irrational, evil and ultimately tragic actions not only for that nation and its people, but for the world. Sadly in the case of the United States, a portion of the political Right,  mostly found in the conservative Christian elements of the Tea Party movement are spreading their own version of the “stab in the back.” They blame Democrats, liberals, atheists, racial and religious minority groups, educators, labor unions and a host of others for the calamities that those that they have supported: the big banks and financial instructions that collapsed the economy in 2008, the politicians of the Republican Party who took the country into an unwise, unjust and illegal war in Iraq that not only cost many American lives and treasure but brought on the crisis that has led to the advance and power of the Islamic State, and the list can go on and on, and includes social issues, race, education, and even religion. But ignoring the responsibility of those they support,mother create myth, and cast blame on everyone but themselves.

That myth that they preach has become a staple of our political crisis. It is little differnt in tenor and intent of those who promoted the stab in the back myth during the Weimar Republic.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Troubled Hero of Little Round Top: G.K. Warren and Combat Trauma

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Here is the newest revision to my Gettysburg text which focuses on General Gouvernor K Warren. It is rather lengthy, but in addition to dealing with the battle it deals with issues that are still very real to those who have served in combat. PTSD, combat stress disorders, Moral Injury and the effect of trauma and war on the character of people, as well as the injustice that some receive at the hands of leaders of the institutions that they serve. War leaves no one unchanged. I do hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

warren2

Brigadier General Gouverneur K. Warren

History, Memory and Myth at Little Round Top

The battle of Gettysburg is an iconic part of American history. The accounts of Buford’s delaying action and John Reynolds death on July 1st, the savage battle at the Wheat Field, the Peach Orchard and Plum Run on July 2nd and the great charge known as Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd 1863 all draw us to the battlefield. The stories of individual courage and the sacrifice of soldiers from the North and the South that are enshrined on the monuments that now populate the battlefield have a nearly religious quality that draws Americans to Gettysburg by the hundreds of thousands every year.

But there are some places on the battlefield that seem to be the most iconic, the most spiritual, and the most inspirational for various reasons. Two of these places in particular have a nearly magnetic attraction, the “High Water Mark” of the Confederacy on Cemetery Ridge where Pickett’s Charge met its end, and the rocky hill known as Little Round Top. A large part of the reason that these two places hold such an attraction is not just the way that the battle was fought. Rather, it is often because of the way the stories of those actions and the stories of the men who fought at them have been passed down to us in the accounts of survivors, in history and even in the fictional accounts of the battle. In each of these stories there are elements of courage, devotion, sacrifice, and tragedy that touch us in deeply personal ways and connect us to them and what we see when we experience history tells us as much about us as it does them.

The story of the Battle for Little Round Top has been passed along to us in the many accounts and histories of the battle, but perhaps more importantly in literature and cinema through Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Killer Angels and that book’s film adaptation, Gettysburg. Many people who have never read an actual history of the battle know about the Battle for Little Round Top from Jeff Daniels’ inspirational portrayal of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in the movie.

The mythic status that we accord Gettysburg is important to Americans as a people. It is a defining moment in our American story and that is why so many of us come to the battlefield. It is a part of who and what we are as a people. Chamberlain said this well a quarter century after the battle at the dedication of the Maine Monuments in 1888:

“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.” [1]

While the accounts in the novel and the film are certainly inspiring and allow us to experience the emotion and near spiritual sense of what Chamberlain writes about the battle, there is much more to learn. When we go beyond the mythic portrayal of the battle we find that despite the vast amount of information available that there are a large number of approximations and ambiguities in the accounts of the battle. So as we endeavor to look at the actions of these leaders on that fateful day it is important to recognize that it is impossible for us to totally separate the actions of the men that helped decide the battle from the mythos that surrounds the story. [2] Likewise, it isimportant for us to acknowledge, that we cannot completely separate the character of these men and how they lived their lives from their actions on this particular battlefield and afterwards.

That understanding is important if we want to be able to interpret these men and their actions; actions that are recorded in their journals, after action reports, unit histories, individual diaries and letters, as well as the accounts of their contemporaries who served alongside them; accounts which for many reasons are not completely reliable.

As important as these accounts are for us in attempting to sort out the truth of the matter we must apply a hermeneutic of suspicion to them and we must interpret them. [3] We have to do this because all historical accounts are influenced by the writer’s motivations, ideology or perspective. There are some authors who omit damning or damaging information, especially about their own actions, or the actions of those leaders that they wish to protect, and the writers that “spin” the event in order to build up or destroy the reputations of those present. Even those writers of the contemporary accounts of the battle who wrote their accounts with the best motivations and intentions to record the events as best as they could describe them were often prone to mistakes, even in details such as the time an event took place. The location of people during the event was limited by their physical position on the battlefield and what they could see amid the bullets and bombshells that created carnage around their point of observation. Those not present at the battle, the men who recorded their accounts based on the recollections of those present are similarly limited.

There is also another factor to consider in dealing with these accounts, especially when untrained observers make observations of the actions and behavior of others which seem strange or erratic to them. This is especially true of men who are writing about men who have experienced the horrors of war and combat which might have resulted in some sort of combat stress injury such as PTSD, brain injuries such as TBI or a concussive syndrome or experience which is now called Moral Injury. Thus when we examine the behavior of such leaders and see a marked change in the way that they deal with others after their experience of war, those conditions, unknown to their contemporaries must be considered as a possibility when evaluating their actions.

The problem for the historian or for that matter the writer of military doctrine is how to interpret the information that they have available to them to make it relevant and useful in the art that they practice. This can be a daunting task with many associated pitfalls that is neither an inductive, nor a deductive process. David Hackett Fischer writes:

“The logic of historical thought is not a formal logic of deductive inference. It is not a symmetrical structure of Aristotelian syllogisms, or Ramean dialectics, or Boolean equations….Instead it is a process of adductive reasoning in the simple sense of adducing answers to specific questions, so that a specific “fit” is obtained. The answers may be general or particular, as circumstances may require. History is, in a sense a problem-solving discipline. A historian is someone (anyone) who asks an open ended question about past events and answers it with selected facts which are arranged in the form of an explanatory paradigm.” [4]

All this is important because it reminds us, that when we study these accounts and attempt to use them as a basis for leadership theories, operation art and strategy, or for any other reason, that all that we know to be “true” is a combination of fact, myth and spin. Our task is to do the best we can with that in mind while admitting that we all have our own prejudices, agendas and ideas that color the glasses by which we interpret the event and the actions of the people involved.

In a sense when we look at the records of the people present or their contemporaries we must entertain a fair amount of suspicion and be able to ask questions as if the writers were talking or writing to us presently. We must ask three questions to do this: Why are they telling this fact or story? Why are they telling it to me? Why are they telling it now? Or more succinctly put “Why this? Why me? Why now?”

Gouverneur Warren: A Complex Character

It is in this context that we examine Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren’s actions on Little Round Top on the afternoon and evening of July 2nd 1863, the controversy that embroiled his career and left him embittered and disillusioned at the end of the war; and even the possible explanations for what occurs to Warren during and after the war provided by modern medicine and psychological knowledge. We must do this because Warren is one of the most important people who step into history that day and because he is such a contradictory figure, to try to understand him and in doing so attempt to understand ourselves more fully.

At the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren was serving as the Chief Topographical Engineer of the Army of the Potomac, a position that he had been appointed to by Joseph Hooker prior to Chancellorsville. At Chancellorsville Warren took command of the Pioneer brigade and “was responsible for the spectacular display of improvised field fortification during Hooker’s withdraw from Chancellorsville.” [5]

Unlike some of the other characters on Little Round Top that day, particularly Joshua Chamberlain, Warren does not engender myth; in fact some historians almost go out of their way to besmirch him, Joseph Whelan described Warren as “a fussy man who liked limericks, decidedly lacked gravitas.” [6] The description Warren being a “fussy man” who “lacked gravitas” is decidedly unfair for it immediately paints Warren in the mind of the reader as a man lacking in courage or fortitude and it distorts history. As I mentioned earlier when examining the evidence we have to carefully sift through it and not assume that any one characterization of a person is correct.

Whelan’s description of Warren is decidedly prejudicial. Warren was actually a complex and often contradictory figure as many military leaders throughout history have been. Though heroic, he did not look like a hero, and though an intensely proud man did not seek to bolster his image in the media, during or after the war. Warren’s most recent biographer, David Jordan wrote that Warren was “prone to long sieges of depression, and he himself agreed that others found him to be morose and unsmiling. A complex and enigmatic man, Gouverneur Kemble Warren is not one to be easily categorized.” [7] His peers seemed to either admire or loathe him for he could be openly critical of others and had arrogance about him, which put some people off. Likewise Warren was often openly disdainful of those that he regarded as his inferiors, which at times included some of his superior officers, a trait that worked against him in the “hierarchical realm of military life.” [8]

Though Warren was considered the “savior of Little Round Top” in the years immediately following the war; his story faded. In part this was due to being relieved of command of Fifth Corps by Philip Sheridan at Five Forks, something that Chamberlain and many other officers and men of V Corps “considered an unjust act made cruel by his [Sheridan’s] refusal to reconsider it.” [9] His story also faded because he resigned his commission as a Major General of Volunteers soon after the war, and returned to relative obscurity working as an Engineer officer along the Mississippi River.

After Warren’s untimely death at the age of fifty-three in 1882, three months before he exonerated by the Board of Inquiry, he was forgotten by many. Likewise, the book he had prepared from his carefully arranged letters and reports was not published until 1932, forty years after his death.

Conversely, the story and myth of his friend and defender Joshua Chamberlain story grew throughout the late 1890s and early 1900s. By then, Chamberlain, a superb writer and orator, alone of the men who made the stand at Little Round Top was still alive to tell his story, and this considerably shaped the history that we know. The rise of the Chamberlain account is one reason why Warren is so often overlooked by many casual students and observers of the Battle of Gettysburg.

But to look at Warren’s actions is by no means to minimize the actions of others such as Colonel Strong Vincent, Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Brigadier General Stephen Weed, Colonel James Rice, or Colonel Patrick “Paddy” O’Rorke. All of these men played an instrumental part in the battle for Little Round Top, but only Warren, Chamberlain and Rice survived the battle, and Rice was killed in action at the Battle of Spotsylvania on May 10th 1864.

Ante-Bellum Staff Officers, Military Culture and an Expanding Army

For the purposes of this study it is important to note that Warren was not acting as a commander during the Battle of Gettysburg. Warren was, like most senior officers today, serving as a staff officer. Many times students of military history and theory are inclined to dismiss the contributions of staff officers because they do not have the overall responsibility of a battle, or the glamour of the limelight of the commanders that they serve under. However, for military professionals, especially those serving on senior staffs who prepare campaign plans, contingency plans and crisis plans the study of officers like Warren is essential.

The Federal Army at Gettysburg, like its Confederate opponent had a wide variety of officers serving in its ranks. Many of its senior officers were graduates of West Point. Many had served together in Mexico and in the various campaigns against Native American tribes. Those who stayed in the Army during the long “peace” between the Mexican War and the outbreak of the Civil War endured the monotony, boredom and often miserable conditions of isolated army posts, long family separations, as well as low pay, slow promotion and often low social status.[10] In light of such conditions, many resigned their commissions to undertake various professional, business or academic pursuits; in fact Samuel Huntington noted that in the years before the Civil War that “West Point produced more railroad presidents than generals.” [11] However, on the outbreak of the war, many of these graduates returned to service whether in the service of the Union, or the Confederate States.

When the war began the Army underwent a massive expansion, which it met through the call of up militia and by raising new volunteer units from the various states. In the expansion many officers were appointed who had no prior military service, or if they did it was performed years or even decades before the war. Some of these men were simply patriots who rallied to the flag, others due to a sense of righteousness about their cause, while others were political opportunists or appointees. In the north this was a particular problem as “professional officers were pushed aside and passed over in the Union, the higher commissions going, in the first stages of the war at least to officers called back into service or directly appointed from civilian life, many of them “political” appointees.” [12] At times the lack of experience, training and sometimes the poor character of some of the volunteers and political appointees was tragic. However, many of these men in both Union and Confederate service performed as well or better than some of their regular army counterparts at various levels of command. Gettysburg would provide opportunity for the best and worst of all of these types of officers to succeed or fail. In this chapter we will look at how Warren succeeded remarkably at Little Round Top.

Explorer, Engineer and Instructor: The Preparation of a Staff Officer

As the Union mobilized a good number of Regular Army officers were allowed to assist the states in the formation and training of the new volunteer units. One of these officers was First Lieutenant Gouverneur Warren.

Warren was typical of the many professional officers of the old army. An 1850 graduate of West Point Warren was a bright student who had absorbed the teachings of his professor, Dennis Hart Mahan as the core of his own military thought, both in his senior year in college and through reinforcement as a faculty member. [13] Warren was commissioned as a Brevet Second Lieutenant and because of his high standing in his class was assigned to Corps of Topographical Engineers. He spent his first seven years in a number of assignments which took him throughout much of the country. Warren did not look the part of a hero. Short and willowy, he appeared no more substantial in body than a young boy, or as some remarked, a young woman; his uniforms tended to hang off him as if they were several sizes too big. [14]

Warren’s work involved exploring and mapping for various enterprises including the project to help tame the Mississippi River, and the exploration of the Great Plains and Black Hills where he developed a sympathy for the various Sioux tribes he encountered noting on completion of his mission in 1858, writing that He had never heard a Sioux chief express an opinion in regard to what was due them in which I do not concur and that many of them view the extinction of their race as an inevitable result of the operation of present causes, and do so with all the feelings of despair with which we should contemplate the extinction of our nationality. [15] Following his years in the west he returned as faculty to West Point where he as an Assistant Professor, shared mathematics instructional duties with Oliver O. Howard and resumed his relationship with his former professor Mahan. [16]

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Commander of the Red Devils: The Peninsula, Gaines Mill and Second Manassas

On the outbreak of war Warren was granted leave from his duties at West Point to serve as Lieutenant Colonel of Volunteers in the 5th New York Infantry Regiment, also known as the Duryee Zouaves. When Abraham Duryee was appointed as a Brigadier General, Warren became the Colonel of the regiment.

He commanded the regiment during the Peninsula campaign where he was eventually given command of a provisional infantry brigade. At Gaines Mill, Warren’s regiment and brigade distinguished itself. Along George Sykes front no troops fought better than the small brigade of two volunteer regiments, the 5th and 10th New York, under Warren’s command. On the afternoon of the battle Warren led the 5th New York in a riveting counter attack.The Red Devils smashed into the 1st South Carolina Rifles and drive them back. The Zouaves were, declared a Regular, the peers of any troops on the hard fought field. Captain John W. Ames of the 11th United States told his parents that the counterattack of the New Yorkers haunted his sleep. Every night, he wrote home a week later, he saw a Zouave, with his arms around a comrade, who was fairly a dead man, walking with his friends support. Ames admitted, the horrors of sudden, accidental, bloody death are here so much augmented and multiplied. [17]

Warren described the action to his wife Nothing you ever saw in the pictures of battles excelled it. The artillery which had been firing stopped on both sides, and the whole armies were now spectators. In less than five minutes 140 of my men were killed or wounded and the other regiment completely destroyed. [18] Warren and his men received many accolades that day. George McClellan credited them with saving the Union left and said that Warren was everywhere conspicuous on the field, and not only directed the movement of his own brigade, which he handled with consummate skill, and placed in the most advantageous of positions, where they could produce the most effect on the enemy, but directed the movement of other regiments. [19] and during the action Warren suffered a slight wound from a spent bullet and had his horse shot out from under him.

Warren’s tiny provisional brigade composed of his 5th New York and the 10th New York was at Second Manassas where they had the bad fortune to be on the exposed Federal flank when Longstreet’s massive attack rolled over them. Warren and his brigade were left to protect the Fifth Corps artillery and trains when that corps was ordered by John Pope to attack Jackson’s corps, and John Reynolds’ division was ordered to withdraw leaving the Fifth Corps’ flank uncovered. On his own initiative Warren moved his brigade to protect the flank when Longstreet’s massive blow hit. Alone the two regiments, numbering about 1100 soldiers were overwhelmed in what one soldier called the very vortex of hell. [20] Robert E. Lee had drawn Pope into a trap and was poised to destroy his army. Longstreet’s corps led by Hood’s Texas brigade struck Warren’s troops and the 10th New York fell back as Warren and the 5th New York hung on long enough for artillery to limber up and withdraw, but they too were forced back with heavy losses. The 10th New York lost 133 killed and wounded, the 5th New York over 300 more. Warren wrote Braver men than those who fought and fell that daycould not be found. It was impossible to do more. A member of Fifth Corps wrote that Warrens regiment and brigade, commanded by him, sustained heavier losses than any command on that disastrous field. [21] However, Warren’s gallantry was rewarded with promotion to Brigadier General effective September 26th 1862.

Though present at Antietam and Fredericksburg Warren’s brigade was not committed to either fight. However, Warren was in a position to see the disastrous attacks of Union troops against enemy troops in strong defensive positions. As an engineer Warren recognized the advantages that now were afforded to the defense with the advent of the rifled musket, something that would influence many of his decisions as well as his questioning of Meade, Grant and Sheridan for tactical decisions to attack in situations where he viewed such actions to be either unwise or suicidal. Warren was affected by what he had seen, both in the human cost of the war as well as the politics that had engulfed the army. He wrote his wife Emily on Christmas Day:

I today feel very desponding about our government and the management of affairs.I left my home without ambition to save a noble cause. I have seen that cause almost betrayed- I know of bleeding hearts, desolate homes, and unnumbered nameless graves of noble men who have vainly perished. There must be a just God[.] Why does he permit these things…” [22]

Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac and Savior of Little Round Top

In January 1863 Warren was pulled from his brigade duties by Hooker who employed him with good effect to assist his engineering staff, first with mapping and then building the fortifications that stopped the ferocious Confederate storm on the second day of battle. [23] In less than 48 hours Warren’s troops threw up five miles of the most formidable entrenchments yet constructed under battlefield conditions. [24] Edward Alexander, Longstreet’s artillery officer noted that when the Confederates came upon the fortifications after Hooker’s withdraw that “they were amazed at the strength and completeness of the enemys fortifications. [25] Following the battle Warren was appointed as Chief Engineer of the Army of the Potomac on May 12th 1863 by Hooker. When Hooker was relieved of command and was replaced by Meade on June 28th 1863, he was kept in that position by his fellow engineer George Gordon Meade.

Warren and Major General Winfield Scott Hancock arrived at Cemetery Hill on the night of July 1st 1863. He surveyed the ground with Hancock and they concurred that “it would be the best place for the army to fight on if the army was attacked.” [26] As George Gordon Meade organized the defenses of his army at Gettysburg, he not only depended on Warren’s advice about the ground, but consulted him constantly at headquarters or sent him off on matters of highest importance. [27] Meade respected Warren and had offered Warren the chance to serve as his Chief of Staff, a position that Warren, like Seth Williams, the Adjutant General declined that offer indicating that he had too much work in their departments to take on the burdens of a new job. [28]

Meade’s opponent, Robert E. Lee, who knew Warren before the war appreciated Warren’s calm, absorbed, and earnest manner, his professional skill and sound judgment. [29] These qualities would serve both men and the army well on July 2nd 1863.

When Sickles moved III Corps forward during the afternoon without permission of Meade, the result was that his Corps was deployed in a vulnerable salient at the Peach Orchard. This left the southern flank of the army in the air and the Round Tops undefended. Meade was aghast and set about to attempt to rectify the situation. Warren was with Meade and based on the reconnaissance that he conducted the previous day and that morning knew the position better than anyone. He recognized that something was badly awry on Sickles Third Corps front matters there were not all straight. [30] He had sent an officer to discover to investigate Sickles’ front and that officer reported that the section of Cemetery Ridge assigned to III Corps was not occupied. [31]

Meade and Warren discussed the situation and realized that III Corps “could hardly be said to be in position” [32] and knowing VI Corps was now close at hand order V Corps, at the time his only reserve into the position vacated by Sickles. They went forward and seeing the empty spaces Warren told Meade “here is where our line should be” to which Meade replied: “It’s too late now.” [33] Warren, whose familiarity with the whole of the battlefield gave him concern about Sickles’ corps dispositions suggest that Meade send him to the Federal left, “to examine the condition of affairs.” [34]

Meade concurred with his Warren and in dispatching him he also gave Warren the authority to take charge as needed saying “I wish you would ride over there and if anything serious is going on, attend to it.” [35] Again Meade’s choice of Warren for the task demonstrated the trust that is essential in command. The two officers worked together seamlessly and as Coddington described their relationship that day: “Meade chose him to act as his alter ego in crucial moments of the battle, and Warren rendered services for which Meade and the country were to be eternally grateful.” [36] Warren would not see Meade again that day “until the attack had spent its force.” [37]

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Warren and the Signal Station on Little Round Top

Hunt noted that “The duty could not have been in better hands.” [38] When Warren arrived on Little Round Top he found it unoccupied save for a few signal corps soldiers. Warren immediately recognized the tactical value of Little Round Top and noted that it was “the key of the whole position.” [39] Warren saw that the Confederates were massing not more than a mile away and that there were no troops on the hill to stop them. He believed that an area “of woods on the near side of the Emmitsburg Road as “an excellent place for the enemy to form out of sight” [40] which was exactly what Major General John Bell Hood’s division was doing, as Henry Hunt noted “The enemy at the time lay concealed, awaiting signal for the assault…” [41] To test his suspicions Warren sent a messenger to Captain James Smith’s 4th New York artillery battery on Devil’s Den to fire a single shot into the woods. Warren described the situation:

“As the shot went whistling through the air the sound of it reached the enemy’s troops and caused every one to look in the direction of it. This motion revealed to me the glistening gun-barrels and bayonets of the enemy’s line of battle, already formed and far outflanking the position of any of our troops; so that the line of his advance from the right to Little Round Top was unopposed. I have been particular in telling this, as the discovery was intensely thrilling to my feelings, and almost appalling.” [42]

Upon confirming his fears Warren resorted to ruse and action. He order the “signalmen to keep up their wigwag activity, simply as a pretense of alertness, whether they had any real signals to transmit or not…” [43] He also sent messengers to Meade, Sickles and Sykes, the commander of V Corps asking Meade to “Send at least a division to me” [44] instructing the messenger, Lieutenant Randall Mackenzie to tell Meade “that we would at once have to occupy that place very strongly.” [45] Sickles refused on account of how badly stretched his lines were, however George Sykes of V Corps responded sending Captain William Jay to find Barnes commander of his 1st Division. As he waited Warren stood atop a “flat rock on the summit of Little Round Top, eyes fixed to his field glasses…he spent several nervous minutes wondering if his urgent appeals for help would be answered or ignored.” [46]

The messenger could not find Barnes, but instead came across the commander of the division’s 3rd Brigade, Colonel Strong Vincent. Vincent knew that Barnes was self-medicating his “pre-battle anxieties out of a black commissary quart bottle” and was already “hollow from skull to boots” and demanded “What are your orders? Give me your orders.” [47] Upon learning that Sykes wanted a brigade to proceed to Little Round Top Vincent responded immediately to take the initiative and ordered his four regiments up Little Round Top without waiting for permission. Vincent told Sykes messenger “I will take the responsibility myself of taking my brigade there.” [48]

Meade’s choice of Warren for the task was confirmed by how Warren continued to act with alacrity and decisiveness throughout the afternoon. “As the Union line began to crumble on Little Round Top, Warren, vested with the authority of Meade’s chief representative, emerged as the right man at the right place at the right time.” [49] Warren did not stop with sending messengers, but seeing the danger building he noted that the northwest face of the hill was still unoccupied and open to attack. Warren forgot “all about a general’s dignity” he “sprinted down the east slope of the hill like a rabbit.” [50]

 

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Battle for Little Round Top

There Warren found Brigadier General Stephen Weed’s brigade which he had previously commanded. The troops of the brigade, “seeing their former commander, started cheering, but Warren had no time or accolades.” [51] Warren did not see Weed, but instead he found Colonel Patrick O’Rorke of the 140th New York, who had been one of his students at West Point, and ordered him to follow him up the hill, saying “Paddy…give me a regiment.” [52]

When O’Rorke told Warren that Weed expected him to be following him Warren took the responsibility telling O’Rorke “Bring them up on the double quick, and don’t stop for aligning. I’ll take responsibility.” [53] O’Rorke followed with his gallant regiment with the rest of the brigade under Weed following them. The 140th New York entered the battle to the right of the Vincent’s 16th Michigan which was being swarmed by the 4th and 5th Texas and 4th Alabama, who thought that victory was at hand, slamming the Texans and Alabamians and “at once the Confederate assault began to dissolve” [54]

Warren’s actions were fortuitous as the 140th New York and Lieutenant Charles Hazlett’s battery of the 5th Artillery arrived at the crest just in time to repulse the advancing Confederates, as the battery struggled to get into position Warren “took hold of one of the guns and labored with the gun crew to get the piece over the rocks and up the steep wooded hillside.” [55] The battery went into action immediately and soon drew concentrated enemy fire and “Warren narrowly escaped serious injury when a bullet nicked his throat.” [56]

In the ensuing fight the brigade would take fearful casualties. By the end of the day Weed, O’Rorke and Hazlett would all be dead, but together with Vincent’s brigade they held on and saved the Union line.[57]

Warren continued to urge on the Federal troops despite being wounded, in the words of a reporter who observed him in “a most gallant and heroic manner, riding with utmost confidence over fields swept by the enemy’s fire, seemingly everywhere present, directing, aiding, and cheering the troops.” [58] Once he was assured that Little Round Top was secure he proceeded to rejoin Meade “near the center of the battlefield where another crisis was at hand.” [59]

After Gettysburg Warren was proud of his accomplishments but did not boast of them. He wrote to his in his journal: “There was no merit in my actions except to secure for our army a position if I could, which would prevent our lines from being flanked and this when attacked was given an opportunity for a fair fight to front, and there our opponents did not win.” [60] However his comments belied his accomplishments on Little Round Top that day “for he alone was responsible for recognizing the crisis there, for Vincent’s brigade being sent up the hill, and for commandeering the 140th New York and the rest of Weed’s brigade as reinforcements.” [61]

Corps Command in Virginia and the Evidence of Combat Stress

Warren was promoted to be the acting commander of II Corps after Gettysburg as Hancock had been wounded and then was appointed to command V Corps. He served well as a Corps commander, although his often “quick and sulphurous temper which he displayed in the Virginia campaign of 1864 worked against Warren by making him unnecessary enemies and dismaying his friends.” [62] Warren was so short tempered during the campaign, probably, due to the result of the strain of it that Colonel Charles Wainwright complained that Warren “had a screw loose and is not quite accountable for all his freaks.” [63] In high command Warren’s “fellow officers respected his ability as an engineer, but disliked his arrogance and insolence. Warren’s temper was legendary, and when his anger boiled over he sputtered out profanities that, said one colleague, “made my hair stand on end.” [64] To be fair to Warren that last outburst followed the disaster inflicted by Grant on the army at Cold Harbor, when Grant threw it up against strongly entrenched Confederate troops with great loss. Warren who could not abide meaningless slaughter found it reprehensible.

The interesting thing about all the accounts of Warren’s temper being so violent is that they do not begin until after he is in Corps command, and he gives no hint of such anger and rage in his letters until after his experiences on the Peninsula, Second Manassas, Antietam, Fredericksburg and finally Gettysburg. During the Army of the Potomac’s inaction during the fall of 1863 it became clear that the war was taking a toll on Warren. Alcohol became a problem, so much that once after drinking a whisky punch with his staff he was “falling down drunk” and had to be told of his actions the following night by one of his staff members. [65]

His letters to Emily display a sense of depression and sometimes even despair. He wrote Emily:

“I repine a great deal. I begin to feel myself giving out in spirit. I need so to rest where I could be contented. So long now my life has been one continued worry or excitement that I am losing my elasticity and I am getting almost afraid for I am apprehensive that I cannot uphold my position…. Every day shows me more and more how this war is severing my old affiliations and making me lonely…here I sit all alone in this great camp (for so I feel) and the memory of my dear friends comes over me and I am morbidly depressed. Indeed I feel I am a very small man that I can endure no more, for I am well and not a prisoner…and have been honored more than I deserve. I have not the heart of a good soldier.” [66]

Since so many people that knew Warren after Gettysburg describe the fearsome and nearly volcanic nature of his temper we can accept that as a fact. Likewise his arrogant, insolent and even haughty attitude towards those that he believed himself to be intellectually superior is evident even during his early career as are his recurrent struggles with depression which only grew worse throughout the war and in following years.

Dr. Judith Herman, an associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School wrote:

“Traumatic events call into question basic human relationships. They breach the basic attachments of family, friendship, love and community. They shatter the construction of the self that is formed and sustained in relation to others. They undermine the belief systems that give meaning to human experience. They violate the victim’s faith in a natural or divine order and cast the victim into a state of existential crisis.” [67]

But it is only after the continued trauma that Warren experienced at Malvern Hill, Second Manassas, Antietam and Fredericksburg that we see the evidence of Warren’s anger, bitterness and rage becoming a major factor in his life and relationships. If we are to take into account the findings of modern science, medicine and psychiatry in relationship to the descriptions provided by Warren and those that knew him, we have to at least give serious consideration to the real possibility that Warren’s issues were caused by his experience of war and some type of resultant combat stress injury. This could include PTSD, Moral Injury, or possibly even changes brought about by a traumatic brain or concussive injury.

Jonathan Shay, a psychologist with many years of experience in dealing with veterans afflicted with PTSD wrote that “The social conditions that cause complex PTSD – persistent betrayal and rupture of community in mortal stakes situations of captivity – destroy thumos, destroy normal narcissism and undo character.” [68]

Dave Grossman writes about how such events can become what we now call “Character disorders”:

Character disorders include obsessional traits in which the soldier becomes fixated on certain actions or things; paranoid trends accompanied by irascibility, depression, anxiety, often taking on the tone of threats to his safety; schizoid trends leading to hypersensitivity and isolation; epileptoid character reactions accompanied by periodic rages…..What has happened to the soldier is an altering of his fundamental personality.” [69]

Shay writes about what happens to character when it is damaged by war, and the spectrum of clinical manifestations of an injury to character seen in many combat veterans. Among the manifestation that Shay describes, a good number which are present in what we know about Warren. These include: Demoralization, self-loathing, a sense of worthlessness, pervasive “raw” vulnerability and feeling conspicuous, social withdraw irritability, rage at small slights, disappointments and lapses, coercive attempts to establish power dominance. [70]

Warren’s repeated writings about his isolation; depression and despair to Emily are powerful. He writes Emily in words that he shares with no one else. In those letters he conveys the depth of his injury, an injury that has shaken his faith in himself, his leaders and brought about an existential crisis. It is an injury that with a man like Ulysses S. Grant in command that he could not voice to anyone in the army for fear of what we would now call the stigma of PTSD that is experienced by so many combat veterans. Instead it comes out in a drive to ensure that his soldiers are not sacrificed in senseless battles, a sense of his own unworthiness, and a sense that he has been shunted aside, even betrayed by those commanding the army, including his former friend Meade as well as Grant. His letter to Emily that he wrote in 1866 describes the effects of PTSD and Moral Injury almost perfectly:

“I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” [71]

A Martyr to no Cause at All: Disgrace and Restoration

Among the people that Warren made enemies with during the campaign was his mentor and friend George Gordon Meade. The issue with Meade was particularly serious as Meade seriously considered relieving Warren due to his insubordinate attitude. Meade wrote a letter which he never sent to Grant’s chief of staff Colonel John Rawlins where he acknowledged Warren’s fine traits but also his problems. Meade wrote:

“No officer in the army exceeds Genl Warren in personal gallantry, in activity, in zeal and in sleepless nights, or in devotion to his duties,” Meade wrote- he suffered from a serious “defect” in which he often questioned orders rather than obey them. Such a serious defect Meade wrote, “strikes at the root of all Military subordination, and is entirely out of question that I can command this Army, if each Corps Commander is to exercise a similar independence of action.” [72]

Another enemy made by Warren was Phillip Sheridan, the new commander of the army’s cavalry. The two men were seemingly destined to clash; they had already clashed at Spotsylvania where Warren complained about Sheridan’s performance. Sheridan never forgave or ever forgot Warren’s justified criticism of him during that battle, and

But the issue really came down to personality and leadership style. Joshua Chamberlain who testified at his board of inquiry testified at it that “Warren gave the impression of a slow, quiet contemplative sort who could not be rushed into decision making. Whether on the march or in battle, he moved at a deliberate pace, refusing to commit himself or his troops until he had time to analyze the situation.” [73]

Chamberlain observed that to someone who did not know Warren, as Sheridan did not that “General Warren’s temperament is such that he, instead of showing excitement, generally shows an intense concentration in what I call important movements…and those who do not know him might take it for apathy when it is deep, concentrated thought and purpose” [74] much of which was rooted in Warren’s strong desire not to sacrifice his men needlessly taking care “to ensure that they were not thrown in to suicidal situations” and he “looked out for their welfare.” [75]

Warren and Sheridan were different types of people and commanders. Warren was an exceptionally intelligent man, one of the brightest in the army and highly regarded in many ways. He was excellent leader of men and he was beloved by his troops, but that being said the traits that were his strengths hindered him in command. He did command from the front, but “his real interest was in the science of command. Warren believed that leading a corps gave him discretion and leeway in carrying out his duties – which often he performed with the smugness of the righteous. It developed that not everyone would be tolerant of either his manner or his philosophy of command – particularly not U.S. Grant.” [76] Nsor did Warren have the kind of single minded vision and killer instinct that made Grant, Sherman and Sheridan such brutally effective battlefield commanders. He was “handicapped by the breadth of his vision,” [77] the trait that made him such an effective staff officer which at Little Round Top served the army so well.

After the war Grant praised Warren’s intelligence, earnestness and perceptiveness, but he found in Warren, what he called a “defect which was beyond his control, that which was very prejudicial to his usefulness…” What was the defect? Grant wrote: “could see every danger at a glance before he encountered it. He would not only make preparations to meet the danger which might occur, but he would inform his commanding officer what others should do while he was executing his move.” [78]

Grant had been apprised of the battlefield by a false report of Warren and his troop’s actual location, news that was hours old “told Sheridan to relieve Warren if he judged the Fifth Corps would “do better” under another commander.” Staff officers of Fifth Corps were shocked, and one wrote “General Grant knew that General Sheridan was not a person to be intrusted with such a weapon and not use it.” [79]

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Fifth Corps at Five Forks

Sheridan did use the power Grant had given. Sheridan was still smarting from a setback incurred the previous day where one of Warren’s infantry divisions had to “extricate Little Phil from difficulties with George Pickett’s Confederates at Dinwiddie Court House on March 31” [80] relieved Warren while the latter was in the midst of actual combat. However, neither Sheridan nor Grant wanted to admit was that “Warren did about as well as anyone could have that night getting three divisions of the Fifth Corps to Sheridan’s position.” [81]

Sheridan relieved Warren of command of V Corps following the Battle of Five Forks where Sheridan believed that Warren’s Corps had moved too slowly in the attack. Sheridan’s actions to relieve Warren at the moment of a great victory “would reverberate for the better part of two decades.” [82] Sheridan’s staff had given Warren wrong information about the positions of the Confederate troops and Warren’s own orders to his division commanders were conflicting. Warren had been working to get Crawford’s division into the fight as it had strayed too far north before turning westward and hit the wrong Confederate units and Warren went to rectify the situation and to get Crawford’s troops into the fight.

Since Sheridan did not see Warren at the front he ordered him relieved of command, even though Warren had personally taken over the direction of one of the brigades, led it into action “and under the setting sun, he snatched up his corps flag, shouted to his men – “Now, boys, follow me, this will be the last fight of the war!” – and rode straight toward the rebel line. His horse was shot and killed, and Colonel Hollon Richardson of the Seventh Wisconsin was wounded as he tried to shield his corps commander when he toppled to the ground….” [83] Not long after this “official orders relieved Warren of his command.” [84] Sadly, had Warren died that day he might have been eulogized as a hero; instead he suffered terribly at the hands of the leaders of the army that he had served so well.

The relief was brutal, Sheridan wrote that “General Warren did not exert himself to get up his corps as rapidly as he might have done, and his manner gave me the impression that he wished the sun to go down before dispositions for the attack could be completed.” [85] This ruined Warren’s career and even hinted at a possible lack of courage on the part of Warren. This Sheridan refused to reconsider, something that “Chamberlain and the officers and men of the Fifth Corps ever forgave him for what they considered an unjust act made cruel by his refusal to reconsider it.” [86] Many, including men who had little love for Warren and who were often critical of him were appalled at the relief. Colonel Charles Wainwright, the commander of Warren’s corps artillery who once wrote to his wife that Warren was “a very loathsome, profane ungentlemanly & disgusting puppy in power” [87] felt that Warren’s “removal at this time, and after the victory had been won, appears to be wrong and cruel.” [88] Porter Alexander wrote after the war of Warren that “no Federal corps commander had a higher personal reputation for courage, enterprise and good judgment.” [89]

Warren was a professional soldier, but he was not perfect. He “possessed all the attributes of a capable, if not excellent corps commander- intelligence, executive ability, training, and personal bravery. But he was a difficult subordinate, whose arrogance and bouts with depression fueled his temper.” [90] Warren took the relief hard. Unfortunately as a topographic engineer he was an outsider to many in the army and not fully appreciated by Grant or Sheridan, who in their haste at Five Forks not only destroyed his career but did nothing to rectify their decision even after others protested. Despite the problems in their relationship Meade “on two occasions suggested to Grant that he reinstate Warren as commander of the V Corps, Grant did not respond.” [91]

William Henry Powell wrote in his history of Fifth Corps:

“With the flush of victory on his brow, with the end of the struggle so near, with the faint Rays of the dawn of peace already gleaming in the sanguinary sky, this noble warrior was brushed aside like a fly from a map and sent into what was an undeniable, if not apparently dishonorable, seclusion.” [92]

After the war Warren resigned his commission as a Major General of Volunteers and returned to his permanent rank as a Major of Engineers. He served another 17 years doing engineering duty and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1879, but his past always haunted him, even his sleep. The previously noted letter to his wife Emily where Warren stated that “I wish I did not dream so much…” and described symptoms that we might now attribute to some sort of combat stress injury was written during that assignment.

Warren sought a Court of Inquiry to exonerate himself but this was refused until President Grant left office. The Court eventually exonerated him but Warren died three months before the results were published. He reportedly told his wife Emily as he lay dying “Convey me to my grave without pageant or show…I die a disgraced soldier.” [93] His last words reportedly were “The Flag! The Flag!” [94] Embittered by the treatment he had received by the army that he had served so well, Warren was buried “as he directed in his will, in civilian clothes and without military ceremony.” [95] In 1888, veterans of the 5th New York, Duryee Zouaves; Warren’s first command placed a bronze statue of Warren standing on the boulder on Little Round Top, where Warren reportedly stood during the battle.

Warren’s funeral was attended by his friends Winfield Scott Hancock and Samuel Crawford, his oldest army friend and mentor Andrew Humphreys was called away before the service due to the sudden illness of his son. [96] The Washington Post noted that Warren “had gone “where neither the malevolence nor the justice of this world can reach him. He had enough of the former; and denial of the latter not only embittered his closing months of his life, but undoubtedly hastened his end.” [97]

Despite the later events which ended up in his relief by Sheridan, Warren’s actions on that hot and muggy July 2nd 1863 exemplified the leadership qualities that we as an institution strive to achieve. From a leadership perspective Warren’s actions at Little Round Top demonstrate how the Chairman’s Desired Leader Attributes and the principles of Mission Command: “the ability to operate on intent through trust, empowerment and understanding” should work in a relationship between seniors and subordinates.

However with that being said, during the 1864 campaign in Virginia, Warren was often disconnected from his senior commanders. During the campaign acted in a manner that did not always contribute to successful mission command, even when events proved him to be correct. During the campaign there were times that his temper, angry outbursts and depression severely hampered his ability to operate on intent, through trust, empowerment and understanding.

In a way the harsh actions of Grant and Sheridan at Five Forks to send a message to the senior leaders of the Army of the Potomac was correct. Unfortunately they directed that action at the wrong man at the wrong time. What Grant and Sheridan did to Warren was without doubt as grave injustice as ever done to any American commander during the prosecution of any war. However, though they were wrong in what they did to Warren “had the same fate been visited upon one or two of the Army of the Potomac’s less-than-stellar corps commanders back in 1862 or 1863, to serve as an indelible lesson to that army’s high command…” [98] much good might have been accomplished and the war in the East brought to an end sooner. But through their unjust actions General Gouverneur K. Warren “became a martyr to no cause at all.” [99]

Warren’s life also serves to remind us of the ethics of our profession, that it is possible for good officers, even excellent officers and leaders to do things that hinder or even hurt the ability to maintain the sense of trust required by their command or staff position. The conflicting personalities of Warren and Sheridan demonstrate this lack of trust which culminated in Warren’s relief.

Warren was a tragic hero, brilliant, courageous and caring. He was also was likely suffering from psychological wounds of war. It was probably these unseen wounds that caused him to be misunderstood in the moment of perceived crisis by men that neither knew him nor appreciated him. Loomis Langdon, who served as the official recorder for the board of inquiry which exonerated Warren after his death wrote:

“I had never met General Warren till he came before his Court of Inquiry…I learned to value his good opinion – and while I admired him for his great patience, his wonderful energy, habit of concentration, his vast learning and untiring application, I loved him for his tenderness, gentleness and charity, even to those whom he believed had combined to do him a cruel wrong; and I admired him for his nobleness of character and his courage and unselfish patriotism.” [100]

It is easy for military professionals to become totally focused in our profession, especially the details of planning and process to forget the humanity of those that we serve alongside. Warren is one of those complex figures who are not easy to categorize. His biographer Jordan wrote that:

“Warren was a man with fine intellect, widely read, and of keen sensibilities. He was also an excellent engineer, mapmaker, and scientist. He was a soldier who cared much for the safety and welfare of the men under him, and he was sickened by the appalling carnage of the war in which he took such a prominent part. He was arrogant and proud, and he hesitated hardly at all in putting down those of his colleagues he regarded as inferiors. His mind’s eye took in much beyond what was his immediate concern, but this gift worked against him in the hierarchical realm of military life. Warren was prone to long sieges of depression, and he himself agreed that others found him morose and unsmiling…” [101]

In reading military history is far too easy to isolate and analyze a commander’s actions in battle and ignore the rest of their lives. In the case of Warren where there is so much controversy, this is particularly important. We have to honestly evaluate his strengths and weaknesses and not fall into the trap that many do by isolating a particular event or personality trait, be it good or bad, and using and then using it to turn the person into an icon, or to destroy the subject of our work.

Those that commit this error render a great disservice to the men themselves. In time of war nearly everyone who serves in combat, gives up something of themselves and sometimes the effects last long after the war is over. Sadly there are times when the lives and reputations of heroes like Gouverneur Warren can be destroyed, not only by their personality failings or weaknesses; by the affliction of Combat Stress injuries as well as the actions of people in the institutions that they serve.

This is the challenge for current military leaders, for within the ranks of our military, including those of the officer corps there are men and women who are very much like the troubled hero of Little Round Top, Brigadier General Gouverneur Kemble Warren.

 

[1] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Chamberlain’s Address at the dedication of the Maine Monuments at Gettysburg, October 3rd 1888 retrieved from http://www.joshualawrencechamberlain.com/maineatgettysburg.php 4 June 2014

[2] Note: My use of the terms myth, mythology or mythos should not be considered negative, and the use of the terms does not mean that there is not some degree of fact or truth in them. The definitions of the term mythos are important to understanding my use of the term here, first it denotes a traditional or recurrent narrative theme or plot structure of a story, and secondly a set of beliefs or assumptions about something. (See the Oxford American Dictionary.)

[3] I mention the term a hermeneutic of suspicion. Hermeneutics is the theory of understanding and interpreting language and non-linguistic expression. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines it this way: “The term hermeneutics covers both the first order art and the second order theory of understanding and interpretation of linguistic and non-linguistic expressions. As a theory of interpretation, the hermeneutic tradition stretches all the way back to ancient Greek philosophy. In the course of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, hermeneutics emerges as a crucial branch of Biblical studies. Later on, it comes to include the study of ancient and classic cultures.”

[4] Fischer, David Hackett Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought Harper and Row, New York 1970 p.xv

[5] Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare, Midland Book Editions, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN. 1992 p.96

[6] Whelan, Joseph Bloody Spring: Forty Days that Sealed the Confederacy’s Fate Da Capo Press, Boston 2014 p.65

[7] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 p.x

[8] Happiness is Not My Companion The Life of G.K. Warren p. x

[9] Wallace, Willard M. The Soul of the Lion: A Biography of Joshua L. Chamberlain Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1991 p.173

[10] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His Critics Brassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 pp.37-38.

[11] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1957 p.199

[12] Ibid. Huntington. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations p.213

[13] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion The Life of G.K. Warren p.6

[14] LaFantasie, Glenn W. Twilight at Little Round Top: July 2, 1863 The Tide Turns at Gettysburg Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2005 p.73

[15] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.30

[16] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.33

[17] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster New York 2005 p.104-105

[18] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.46

[19] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.46

[20] Ibid. Jordan Happiness Is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.56

[21] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.56

[22] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.64

[23] Sears, Stephen W. Chancellorsville Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 1996 p.372

[24] Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. Midland Book Editions, Indiana University Press. Bloomington IN. 1992 p.91

[25] Alexander, Edward Porter Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative 1907 republished 2013 by Pickle Partners Publishing, Amazon Kindle Edition location 7007

[26] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.224

[27] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.332

[28] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg pp.129-130

[29] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.332

[30] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.262

[31] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.319

[32] Ibid. Trudeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.319

[33] Ibid. Trudeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.320

[34] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.90

[35] Ibid. Trudeau. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.320

[36] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.388

[37] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.260

[38] Hunt, Henry. The Second Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p. 307

[39] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[40] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[41] Ibid. Hunt The Second Day at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. p. 307

[42] Pfanz, Harry F. Gettysburg: The Second Day. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1987 p.206

[43] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.503

[44] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.92

[45] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.261

[46] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.88

[47] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.262

[48] Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man Combined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.127

[49] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.395

[50] Swanberg, W.A. Sickles the Incredible Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1957 p.214

[51] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.93

[52] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.93

[53] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.504

[54] Ibid. LaFantasie, Twilight at Little Round Top p.153

[55] Ibid. LaFantasie, Twilight at Little Round Top p.132

[56] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.281

[57] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren pp. 93-94

[58] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.388

[59] Ibid. Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.396

[60] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.95

[61] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.281

[62] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.315

[63] Huntington, Tom Searching for George Gordon Meade: the Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg Stackpole Books Mechanicsburg PA 2013 p.305

[64] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.73

[65] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.104

[66] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.106

[67] Herman, Judith Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror Basic Books, a member of Perseus Books Group. New York 1992 and 1997 p.51

[68] Shay, Jonathan Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming Scribner, New York and London 2002 p.160

[69] Grossman, Dave On Killing Back Bay Books Little, Brown and Company New York, Boston and London 1995 and 1996 p.48 An epileptoid personality pattern is one that includes irritability, selfishness, aggressiveness and being uncooperative. All of these are demonstrated in the changes that Warren exhibits between 1862 and 1865

[70] Ibid. Shay Odysseus in America pp.160-161

[71] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: the Life of G.K Warren p.249

[72] ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.305

[73] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p176

[74] Sears, Stephen W. Controversies and Commanders Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1999 pp.278

[75] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.316

[76] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.257

[77] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.317

[78] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.262

[79] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders pp.275-276

[80] Inid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.328

[81] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.272

[82] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.255

[83] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.232

[84] Nesbitt, Mark Through Blood and Fire: Selected Civil War Paper of Major General Joshua Chamberlain Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 1996 Amazon Kindle edition location 2113 of 2800

[85] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.278

[86] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.175

[87] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York 2005 p.374

[88] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.236

[89] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.514

[90] Ibid. Wert The Sword of Lincoln p.402

[91] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.330

[92] Ibid. Huntington Searching for George Gordon Meade p.330

[93] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.307

[94] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.244

[95] Foote Shelby The Civil War, a Narrative, Volume Three: Red River to Appomattox Random House, New York 1974 p.874

[96] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.309

[97] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.308

[98] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.284

[99] Ibid. Sears Controversies and Commanders p.284

[100] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.309

[101] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren preface pp.x-xi

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The First Duty is to Truth: Midweek Musings

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“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” Oscar Wilde 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World, I have been busily working this past week oThe n a major revision to a chapter of my Gettysburg text about Colonel Strong Vincent and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Part of that appeared here last week. However, as I continued to do more research I realized that what I wrote was not nearly enough, not in terms of words, but in terms of truth. There is much more to the story, especially concerning the relationship of Joshua Chamberlain and his wife Fannie.

There are times when one seeks truth that the timeless truths of the subject matter have to be taken to heart. Truth does matter to me, even when it is uncomfortable, not just for others but for me as well. As I have written before, that in this I am reminded of a quote from Star Trek the Next Generation. It is from an episode called “The First Duty.” In it the seasoned Captain Jean Luc Picard confronts his young protege Wesley Crusher after a disastrous accident that leaves a Star Fleet Academy cadet dead. Picard tells the young Crusher that “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…

Truth is difficult, especially when one builds their belief on myths, be they of their own or others making. For me the study of the Battle of Gettysburg for my work has become a quest for truth. Not so much about the truth of specific incidents on the battlefield but of the great truths that go beyond the battlefield, the enduring truths about human nature, about relationships and about war and peace. In a sense the story of the battle of Gettysburg and those men who fought on it, has become a palette from which I am drawing truths about the human condition as well as my own terribly flawed condition, and in the process busting myths, my own included.

Barbara Tuchman once wrote: “The reality of a question is inevitably more complicated than we would like to suppose.” That is truth, it is truth with battles, politics, and in fact all of life, but many would rather rest content in myth. Thus as Rene Descartes wrote: “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.”

I doubt a lot. I question a lot more and sometimes that leads to facing things that are uncomfortable. Thus, I will be putting up the redone version of that last article in the next day or two, as well as others where my study is leading me to deeper truths.

My big task now is editing and reorganizing the nearly 450 pages of text that I have written into the past year into a form that I can market to a publisher. I do have a couple of final chapters to write from scratch but hopefully by early spring I will ready to have it complete enough to submit for publication.

In the mean time I will continue to write about other subjects, including some military, some political, some social and some about current events, music, and life in general. There are couple of articles I want to write about some naval battles that have fascinated me for decades as well as more on the inhumanity of the Holocaust, the past and current struggles for civil rights in America and many other subjects.

That being said, you as my readers will get my new insights on Gettysburg, both new and revised articles which reflect that search for truth. I do hope that you find them as something more than simply accounts of the battle, but on the deeper truths of the nature and character of humanity, the nature and character of the conflict that we call war, with all its attendant maladies, but more importantly as a mirror for ourselves. My study of Joshua Chamberlain has resulted in having to face uncomfortable but strangely liberating truths about me and the way I live my life.

This is part of my journey, a journey into truth that goes beyond the mere reporting of facts, facts which often are as subject to interpretation, disputation and change as more “facts” are discovered. The truth is that we have to be able to accept new discoveries once they are determined to be true, or at least at the point that they can be posited as reasonable and worthy of acceptance, no matter how badly they challenge our deep held beliefs, even those about ourselves.  Sadly the lies we believe and persist in telling, and the myths that we believe without question, are much more dangerous than  any new truth that offends us.

I have to agree with Marcus Aurelius who wrote:

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”

Those truths can be scientific, they can be historical or literary, and quite often the truth can also be quite personal.

As John F Kennedy said at Yale in 1962: “The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” 

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Friday Morning Myth Busting before a Trip to Gettysburg

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Dear Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I head up with my class to Gettysburg for our Staff Ride. Of course this comes on the heals of the San Francisco amazing game seven victory in the 2014 World Series, and if you read this site you understand that I was up until the wee hours of the morning because I was much too excited to sleep. This is actually, despite the lack of sleep a blessing because most of the time that I don’t sleep it is because of anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks and night terrors that torment me. As Gouverneur Warren, one of the heroes of Gettysburg wrote after the war:

“I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.”

But last night was different, to was hard to get to sleep because of the excitement of one of the best World Series games in history. That being said I am tired. I revised my chapter on the ideological nature of the American Civil War, and I should have another chapter revision on the Confederate decision to allow Robert E. Lee to invade Pennsylvania in the late spring of 1863 done by the time that I leave tomorrow. But those chapters, which are around 80 pages long are now too big to post in one fell swoop here.

However, in my readings I encountered a quote by historian Drew Faust Gilpin, as well as another that was part of a Methodist tract from 1860 that both seem absolutely timely today. I included both in the chapter, but I am going to post it here as well, because in the religious-historical myth that has become the staple that frauds like David Barton, Glenn Beck and their political and media allies flood the the airways and internet with, it is timely. Gilpin wrote:

“Sacred and secular history, like religion and politics, had become all but indistinguishable…The analogy between the Confederacy and the chosen Hebrew nation was invoked so often as to be transformed into a figure of everyday speech. Like the United States before it, the Confederacy became a redeemer nation, the new Israel.”

The Methodist tract noted:

“Confederate independence, explained a Methodist tract quoting Puritan John Winthrop, was intended to enable the South, “like a city set on a hill’ [to] fulfill her God given mission to exalt in civilization and Christianity the nations of the earth.”

Personally I cannot imagine anymore hatful projections of the Christian faith, but then I was reminded by the Fox News Channel resident Shrink, Dr Keith Ablow, that the United States needs to be conducting it’s own Jihad, its own wars of conquest to impose the American way on the rest of the world. Of course the blowhard shrink Ablow who has no skin in the game doesn’t seem to mind putting the sons and daughters of the nation in harm’s way, to die in unjust, unrighteous, illegal, immoral and certainly un-Christian wars to satiate his bloodlust. Ablow revels in diagnosing the pathologies and motivations of people that he has never met, not a very professional way of doing business as a shrink, but just watching Ablow’s rants on television and reading what he puts out on the internet I wonder if he is a sociopath, a man without empathy, a man who does not seam to be motivated by the desire to help people, nor by the upholding the Hippocratic oath, to do no harm.

I find it fascinating to read what General and later President Ulysses S Grant said about such ideas:

“As the United States is the freest of all nations, so, too, its people sympathize with all people struggling for liberty and self-government; but while so sympathizing it is due to our honor that we should abstain from enforcing our views upon unwilling nations and from taking an interested part, without invitation, in the quarrels between different nations or between governments and their subjects. Our course should always be in conformity with strict justice and law, international and local.”

But that my friends is why history matters, and why you should take your time to study it, including the uncomfortable things that destroy the myths perpetuated by the Lost Causers of the modern “Conservative Christian” revisionists and their allies who sell their crap as truth to people who want to believe it because they have been conditioned by thirty years and more of propaganda, that the myth is true.

Clothed in  the garb of faith and patriotism these lies, and the political, military and economic consequences  that they have spawned over the past thirteen years, have cost more American lives and treasure, as well as destroyed our stature in the world than any series of events in our history. heretical These filthy and polluted ideas helped destroy what could have been a renaissance in international relations because their proponents painted everything in terms of black and white and you either are for us or against us. Yes let me say it, President George Bush’s, uninspired,misguided and down right ignorant  religious world views have taken us to the abyss.

This my friends is why history matters. Sometimes it may seem dry and dusty, and no you cannot get rich as a real historian, while the fake ones like Barton, Beck and Bill O’Reilly are able to make a lot of money because they appear to what people want to hear by lying, by so linking their religion with their politics and their distorted view of history that the reality of history is ground to dust under the heals of their designer jackboots.

So, tomorrow, or is it already today now, I head up to Gettysburg where the brave men of the Army of the Potomac, whose veterans, like those of other Union armies engaged in the struggle for freedom helped give our nation a “new birth of freedom.” 

I think that how the Army of Tennessee, a Union army in the West described the war is at the heart of the issue.

“The Society of the Army of the Tennessee described the war as a struggle “that involved the life of the Nation, the preservation of the Union, the triumph of liberty and the death of slavery.” They had fought every battle…from the firing on the Union flag Fort Sumter to the surrender of Lee at Appomattox…in the cause of human liberty,” burying “treason and slavery in the Potter’s Field of nations” and “making all our citizens equal before the law, from the gulf to the lakes, and from ocean to ocean.”

It is amazing what the study of history and going to the places that it was made can do in someone’s heart. For me, the study of the Battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War, and not just the military aspects of it has motivated me to be more forceful and speak up against the lies of those like Barton, Beck, O’Reilly, Ablow and the hosts of pundits, preachers and politicians who spread their lies as truth.

But then for me, truth matters. In this I am reminded of a quote from Star Trek the Next Generation. It is from an episode called “The First Duty.” In it the seasoned Captain Jean Luc Picard confronts his young protege Wesley Crusher after a disastrous accident that leaves a Star Fleet Academy cadet dead. Picard tells the young Crusher that “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…

To me, as a miscreant priest, and career officer that quote strikes home. I have a duty to the truth, believe it or not it does matter to me, and sometimes that means that I have to be a myth buster and call out the professional liars who posit themselves as historians, political scientists or experts on military strategy, when none of them have either the education or the experience to be experts in anything but being able to lie for fun and profit.

You see when I go to Gettysburg, and I stand where so many men died do make others free I become ever more inspired to confront the liars.

But now I am preaching and I try not to do that. I do need to attempt to get some sleep, so have a nice night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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The Current American Crisis and Drawing Comparisons from the End of the Imperial Germany

Revolution: Members of the Spartacists Bund in Berlin

Introduction

There are times when great nations face catastrophe. It is something that has befallen every world power at one time or another. Therefore it should not be a surprise if the United States despite the claims of those supporting American Exceptionalism succumbs to some great crisis which fundamentally changes it.  While I do not proclaim the end of the United States it does appear that we are experiencing events which have the potential of reducing our status as a great power and plunge the nation into political and economic chaos.  Some including California Governor Jerry Brown have compared the current state of the country to the division of the country in the American Civil War.

Likewise since there are some leaders of the loud and influential Tea Party movement who openly talk about revolution it is important to know what can happen if there is a political or economic collapse that leads to revolution at home while troops are still in combat. All of this happened in Germany in 1918.  In our current time such a possibility is higher than at any time in American History. Thus I feel we are in a potentially perilous time where long standing institutions are in crisis even while wars rage around the world.

However I do not, for all the vitriol spent believe that our current crisis is comparable to the Civil War except the absolute contempt that the opposing sides hold each other. The Civil War was a war which pitted region against region and our divisions know few geographic boundaries and even the “Red State versus Blue State” divide is deceiving.  It is my belief that what we are experiencing is much more similar to the crisis faced by Imperial Germany at the end of the First World War.  Then Germany was about to concede the loss of the war despite having known enormous battlefield success that lasted until the summer of 1918 when the tide of the war turned irreversibly against them as Allies collapsed and pulled out of the war was coupled with battlefield defeats, economic ruin and massive political and social unrest. The result of the collapse of Imperial Germany was a civil war and the foundation of the ill-fated Weimar Republic which eventually succumbed to the extremism and dictatorship of Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party of Germany, the Nazis.

The German Revolution of 1919 and civil war is important for those who study highly developed states when they enter a period of social and political upheaval usually following military defeat that causes the society to question or even overthrow the established order.  The end of Imperial Germany and the establishment of the Weimar Republic on November 9th 1918 is a prime example.   This paper concerns the first years of the Republic, and the dependency of the Majority Socialist leadership to the General Staff and their use of Freikorps to quell revolutionary chaos and avert the establishment of a Soviet State.

Members of the Leftist “People’s Naval Division” occupied the government quarter and terrorized Berlin

This study begins with the establishment of the Republic and concludes with the Kapp Putsch.  This is an era that is seldom referenced by political or military leaders in western states and historians themselves are often divided in their interpretation of the subject.  The study of this period is vital to those who study politically polarized societies which are either war weary or have suffered the shock of military defeat coupled with a government which is blamed for the events.  Thus, it is important to study the relationship of the military to the government and in particular the military’s relationship to politicians who have little connection to or affinity for the military, its traditions and culture and the often adversarial relationship of these politicians to military leadership which often sees them as adversaries.  The period also shows how actions of those who in their antipathy to the military create a climate where the military loathes the civilian leadership and the government.  The results of such conditions can endanger the society as a whole and ultimately usher in periods of great tragedy.  This occurred in Weimar Germany with the result that the military in the later years of the Republic neither the military nor the Majority Socialists could not work together against the Nazi takeover of the state.  However, the first years of the relationship set the tone and foredoomed the Republic.

The Complexity of the Situation

General Wilhelm Groener convinced Kaiser Wilhelm II to abdicate and helped forge an alliance between the Majority Socialists and the Army to head off a Soviet style Revolution

The history of Weimar, particularly that of the military and Freikorps in their relationship to the Republic is complex.  Not only is the relationship between the military and government complex, but the Freikorps themselves, their organization, leadership and political affiliation were not monolithic as is sometimes maintained,[i] nor were the Freikorps the direct ancestors of the Nazi SS/SA organizations despite often similar ideology,[ii] nor can they dismissed by saying that they were composed of “former soldiers and officers ill-disposed to return to civilian life.”[iii] The Freikorps’ association with the Army and Republic is more complex than some historians assert.  Despite the right wing leanings of many of units and fighters and future association of some to the Nazis, the blanket claim that the Freikorps were forerunners of the Nazi movement is not supportable.[iv]

It is true that without Freikorps support in Munich, along with support of the Thule Society, business leaders and others “that the transition of the DAP into the Hitler party could not have taken place.”[v] It is also true that elements of the Freikorps branded too revolutionary and unruly for service in the Army continued as secret societies and affiliated themselves with various right-wing political groups.[vi] Likewise a case can be made that the fierceness of many Freikorps veterans, younger leaders of the Army helped lay the foundation for the brutality of both the Army and Waffen SS as they prosecuted the Second World War.[vii] Yet simply because certain aspects of a subject are true does not make for a broader “truth.”  Heinz Höhne argues the reverse of what some have written in regard to the relationship of the Freikorps and Reichswehr to the Nazis, that in fact the Nazis did not issue from the Freikorps, but rather that many former members of the Freikorps, Imperial Army or the Reichswehr were attracted to the Nazis, particularly to the SS by its “philosophy of “hardness” and its attitude of bellicosity per se, basically unconnected with ideology.”[viii] Others historians state similar views especially those that study the relationship of the Reichswehr leadership to the Freikorps.  Thus the thesis of this paper is that the historiography like the period itself is complex; that the composition, leadership and motivations of the Freikorps were not monolithic, nor were they beloved by the Reichswehr, nor were they the “trailblazers” for the Nazi movement.  The focus of this paper is on the relationship of the Reichswehr and the Freikorps to the Republic to the Kapp Putsch and the dangers of a relationship built on necessity without mutual trust.  Such a relationship is dangerous and can lead to unintended consequences.   This paper will explore the first years of the Weimar Republic and specifically look at several key events that were pivotal in the relationship between the Army and Freikorps and the Majority Socialists.

The Supporting Literature

The literature covering this period includes both well written academic histories and popular works which attempt to present a particular view. Additionally there are biographical works which shed some light on the subject. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926 by Harold Gordon Jr. is perhaps the best study of the Freikorps and their relationship to the state and the army.  Gordon’s work is exceptional in documenting the numbers, types, political affiliation, action and ultimate disposition of the Freikorps.  The History of the German General Staff by Walter Goerlitz; The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945 by John Wheeler-Bennett, The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933 by F.L. Carsten and The Politics of the Prussian Army: 1640-1945 by Gordon A. Craig are all extremely valuable in exploring the relationship between the military and the Republic.  The best of the general histories of the period, which focus on the National Socialist state are The German Dictatorship by Karl Dietrich Bracher, and Richard Evans’ The Coming of the Third Reich. Richard Watt’s The Kings Depart is one of the best for telling the story of the fall of the Empire and the revolution in Germany.  Watt’s account is well written and documented work and touches on other factors affecting the new republic including Versailles and Allied political actions. The final chapter of Holger Herwig’s The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918 gives a good account of the Army’s role in the end of the Empire and beginning of the Republic.  Andreas Dorpalen’s Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic adds an interesting dimension of Hindenburg’s role in the republic’s formation and negotiations between Groener, Noske and Ebert. Steven Ozments’ A Mighty Fortress is superficial in its treatment of the period.  Nigel Jones’ Birth of the Nazis: How the Freikorps Blazed a Trail for Hitler is an interesting and somewhat entertaining but not very well documented tending to “broad brush” in a sensational way the Freikorps having none of the detail or nuance of Gordon, Craig, or Carsten on the Freikorps, nor the depth of Goerlitz or Wheeler-Bennett on the Republic’s relationship with the Army, or the attitude of the Reichswehr leadership to the Freikorps.  William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Gerald Reitlinger’s The SS: Alibi of a Nation 1922-1945 and Heinz Höhne’s The Order of the Death’s Head all add some information which details early Nazi involvement in the period, but are less useful to this early period most of their work focuses on later events.  Of other works, Kenneth Macksey’s Why the Germans Lose at War has an insightful but short chapter dealing with this period and Wolfram Wette’s The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality offers an interesting and at times provocative look at anti-Semitism in the German military in the years following the First World War.  Carlos Caballero Jurado’s The German Freikorps 1918-1923 is a short but very detailed study of those organizations and their actions.  B.H. Liddell-Hart who has a small chapter on General Hans Von Seeckt in The German Generals Talk which though it does not deal with the events in this paper make for interesting commentary on later actions of former Reichswehr officers who served the Nazi state.

A number of biographies touch on actions of German Officers who played key roles in World War Two.[ix] Most auto-biographies gloss over the Weimar period; however Admiral Erich Reader’s memoir Grand Admiral offers the insight of a naval officer with some direct observation of the revolution and the Kapp Putsch.  General Heinz Guderian in Panzer Leader omits his service in the Baltic “Iron Division.”  Field Marshal Albert Kesselring’s memoirs has a brief section covering the period, but one comment is typical attitude toward of many officers throughout its existence:

“My cup of bitterness was full when I saw my devoted work rewarded by a warrant for my arrest for an alleged putsch against the socialist-influenced command of my III Bavarian Army Corps. Notwithstanding the degrading episodes during my imprisonment after 1945, I do not hesitate to describe this as the most humiliating moment of my life.”[x]

One thing that has to be noted about all the memoirs is that each of the writers was writing after the German Defeat and their imprisonment. Many times their words mask other actions and attitudes that are  not mentioned, thus while an important source one also has to have some suspicions when using them even the unintentional errors that come from time as well as the human tendency to have a somewhat selective memory.

Analysis

President Friedrich Ebert and his military commanders including General Hans Von Seeckt (2nd from right)

This paper will first examine the formation of the Freikorps by the Army and the Ebert government in response to uprisings by armed groups of leftists and the effectiveness of the Freikorps in putting down the various uprisings.   We will then address the relationship of the Army with the Majority Socialists and then move on to the crisis engendered by the Kapp Putsch.

The relationship of the Republic to the Army was born in the moment of crisis of the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the armistice discussions with the Allies.  Beset by revolts in key naval bases and mutinies aboard ships of the High Seas Fleet and unrelenting Allied pressure on the German armies in the west the situation continued to deteriorate as the “red flag was flying in all the principle cities, soldiers behind the front were electing soldiers councils Russian fashion.”[xi] Revolutionary and defeatist propaganda spread by the radical left wing of the Independent Socialists and Spartacus League spread through the country and even affected combat units,[xii] while the “Majority Socialists had found out that the militant factions of the Independents had secretly armed themselves out of funds supplied by the Soviet ambassador and adopted the slogan “all or nothing.””[xiii] The situation had deteriorated so badly that Karl Liebknecht, leader of the Spartacus League “was announcing the establishment of a Soviet regime from the steps of the Imperial Palace.”[xiv]

Under these dire conditions, General Wilhelm Groener who had succeeded General Ludendorff as Quartermaster General called an emergency meeting of fifty “of his most senior army commanders.”[xv] In response to his question of whether the troops would follow the Kaiser and oppose the revolts only one answered in the affirmative, and eight responded that “there was no hope of using regular Army units to quell unrest at home.”[xvi] On November 9th Groener went to the Kaiser on behalf of the Supreme Command and in response to a suggestion that the Kaiser lead the Army back and suppress the revolts boldly stated “The Army will march home in peace and under its leaders and commanding generals, but not under the command of Your Majesty, for it stands no longer behind Your Majesty.”[xvii] The Emperor abdicated fleeing to Holland and Friedrich Ebert leader of the Majority Socialists was named Chancellor on November 9th and upon hearing the news, Philipp Scheidemann, without consulting Ebert announced that Ebert was Chancellor and “Long live the great German Republic!”[xviii] The mobs were not placated by the announcement and far left organizations with the Independents “had no intention of letting the revolution stop there.”[xix] In the streets of Berlin soldiers sold their weapons and vehicles officers were attacked by crowds on the streets and whenever “crowds found an Army officer; they tore off his epaulettes and medals.”[xx] Everywhere mutual recrimination was in the air, soldiers “blamed revolutionaries for the betrayal and stab-in-the back while revolutionaries blamed officers for all the costs and losses of the war.”[xxi]

Groener called Ebert promising the Army’s support of the new government in return for the government’s assistance to the Army in the maintenance of discipline and supply.[xxii] He also drafted a letter signed by Hindenburg pledging the Army’s loyalty and telling him that “the destiny of the German people is in your hands….”[xxiii]One source notes: “Thus, in half a dozen sentences over a telephone line a pact was concluded between a defeated army and a tottering semi-revolutionary regime; a pact destined to save both parties from the extreme elements of revolution but, as a result of which the Weimar Republic was doomed at birth.”[xxiv]

The High Command was able to bring the Army home in good order following the armistice but upon arriving most units “melted away like snow under a summer sun,”[xxv] those which remained were often shells of their former selves beset by soldier’s councils and leftist revolutionaries.  To support the government the High Command issued a directive stating that it “put itself as the disposal of the present government led by Ebert without any reservation.”[xxvi] Yet in December delegates of the National Assembly continued to sow resentment in the military by military discipline be placed in the hands of soldiers’ councils, that all badges of rank be removed with all decorations of insignia and honor.[xxvii] Reaction was heated,[xxviii] but despite this Groener, Colonel Walter Reinhardt, the Prussian Minister of War and the Republic’s Defense Minister, Gustav Noske endeavored to find forces to combat the growing revolution and rebellious military units.  The choice was not hard, the Army was of no use, so called “democratic forces” were in most cases both unreliable and ineffective, while only the Freikorps “provided suitable material for the immediate creation of an efficient, combat-ready army.”[xxix] Thus the Freikorps became the instrument of necessity to ensure that the government was not swept away by a Soviet style revolution.

Gustav Noske and General Von Luttwitz. Luttwitz would lead the Reichswehr and Freikorps units that participated in the Kapp Putsch

Gustav Noske, of the Majority Socialist party “saw himself as a patriot, a man of action…who had no time for theories…and was one of the few Socialists that the Supreme Command trusted.”[xxx] He had already distinguished himself by helping to bring under control the sailors revolts in Kiel by forming a loyal “Naval Brigade”[xxxi] and he  “realized that the government must have a dependable military force behind it if it was to survive and rule Germany” and the “old Officer Corps must be the backbone of any such force.”[xxxii] The Army had melted away and units of the workers and soldiers councils were poorly trained, organized and led “”fought against the government as often as for it” and “were of little practical value to either the government or the rebels.”[xxxiii] In the chaos of a Spartacus, now called the German Communist Party uprising and vacuum of political leadership of January 1st 1919 agreed to become defense minister stating “Someone must be the bloodhound, I won’t shirk the responsibility!”[xxxiv]

Noske reviewing Freikorps Hulsen. Many of the Freikorps were composed of professional soldiers and brought into the Reichswehr

Noske helped by the High Command helped organize volunteer units led by officers and NCOs composed of reliable veterans.  Freikorps varied in size from divisions to companies and were led by Generals down to Sergeants and even a Private First Class.  Their greatest success was in early 1919 when the Republic was beset by “Red” revolutions in many major cities.  Without the use of the Freikorps by the government it is unlikely that the Republic would have survived.[xxxv] On January 4th Ebert and Noske reviewed the troops of General Maercker’s Freiwillege Landesjaegerkorps and Maercker informed them that every volunteer had pledged loyalty to the government, seeing the discipline and order Noske told Ebert “Don’t worry. Everything going to turn out all right now.”[xxxvi] On January 5th 1919 mobs attacked the Chancellery and the officers of the Socialist Vörwarts newspaper and Noske led the Freikorps[xxxvii] to regain control of the city[xxxviii] and crush the revolt during which “Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were lynched by the officers of the Guards Cavalry Rifle Division.”[xxxix] In March after a period of uneasy calm the Freikorps, now reinforced by the 2nd Naval Brigade, or Ehrhardt Brigade[xl] were called upon to put down the revolt of the “People’s Naval Division.”[xli] Making liberal use of heavy weapons including tanks the Freikorps inflicted heavy losses on the leftists with over 1500 dead and 12,000 wounded in the uprising.[xlii] Other revolts were crushed and the Freikorps reached their zenith in Württemberg where Freikorps led by Lieutenant Hahn, a Social Democrat put down leftist revolts[xliii] and in Bavaria where Independents and Communists had taken the city with their “Bavarian Red Army which numbered nearly 25,000 men[xliv] on April 7th. After failed attempts by the Socialist government to retake Munich, they asked for Berlin’s help.  Violence and massacres of citizens by the various leftist groups inflamed the Freikorps, including the Ehrhardt Brigade and the revolt was crushed by May 2nd.[xlv] Dorpalen calls the Freikorps ruthlessness “completely unwarranted in view of the weakness of the opposing forces” and noted though they broke the leftist powers they deepened the nations’ cleavages”[xlvi] while Macksey writes that “where Freikorps’ brutality stained the pages of history there was invariably a forgoing or simultaneous record of excess by their sworn opponents.”[xlvii]

The Erhardt Brigade in Berlin during the Kapp Putsch

The Provisional Reichswehr was established on March 6th 1919 and the High Command began to assemble it from the Freikorps, remaining Army units and Republican defense forces.  Some Freikorps were brought into the new Army in total, but the tumult had not yet ceased.  There was a great distrust between many in the Army, the remaining Freikorps and the Socialists.  The crisis was precipitated by the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Noske and others threatened resignation over the war guilt clauses, but Groener warned that if the treaty was rejected the Army could not win against the Allies if hostilities were renewed.[xlviii] The treaty imposed harsh limitations on the German Army which many bitterly resented, however, Seeckt, the Chief of Staff of the Army felt that it was “more important to keep the Army in being and preserve the possibility of a military resurrection.”[xlix] Yet the government had lost the support of the Officer Corps and many looked to General Walther von Lüttwitz, the Reichswehr’s senior commander for leadership.[l]

Korvettenkapitan (Lieutenant Commander) Erhardt commander of the 2nd Naval Brigade whose announced demobilization triggered the Kapp Putsch. Erhardt would have to flee after the Nazi takeover. Even revolutionaries become victims as revolutions end

Other right-wing groups and individuals made plans to overthrow the government.  They favored revolt against the government, but “their political aims were hazy.”[li] Seeckt and Reinhardt felt it necessary to demobilize Freikorps who’s ill-discipline and political radicalism was a “danger to the consolidation desired by the army command.”[lii] This movement climaxed with the alliance of Lüttwitz to Wolfgang Kapp and was triggered by the orders disbanding the 2nd and 3rd Naval Brigades in compliance with Versailles and due to their radical views.[liii] In spite of the opposition of his chief of staff Von Lüttwitz began planning a coup to save Germany.[liv] The conspirators showed “little regard for coordination of effort and a quite amazing ability to work at cross purposes.”[lv] On March 12th without consulting Kapp, Lüttwitz and Ehrhardt launched the Putsch and Ehrhardt’s brigade in full battle dress entered Berlin. At this point the Reichswehr command froze; officers refused to condone the putsch but at the same time refused to support Noske and Reinhardt who demanded armed opposition,[lvi] while Navy officers openly supported it.[lvii] Seeckt declared that “Troops do not fire upon troops!” and “When at occurs, then the true catastrophe, which was avoided with so much difficulty on November 9, 1918 will really occur.”[lviii] The coup died amid massive strike by workers and lack of popular support but the damage was done.  Noske resigned, many officers in were discredited[lix] and dismissed including Lüttwitz and Admiral Von Trotha, who openly supported the coup,[lx] though Raeder says that Von Trotha and the Navy staff only” thought of anything of complete loyalty to the government.”[lxi] The relationship which had endured the dire days of the Republic was ended.  The Reichswehr would emerge a lean and highly trained organization and remain a power broker in the Republic but the animosity between the Army and the Socialists that they could not stand together against the Nazis despite a mutual interest in doing so.[lxii]

Conclusion

The end of Weimar and the beginning of a nightmare

The period was a critical and complex and should be studied by anyone living in a state with a powerful military tradition and institutions in crisis.  Unlike popular notions, the Freikorps were diverse and not the seed-bed of the Nazi movement and though many former members would become Nazis.  Several, including Ehrhardt narrowly escaped death at Nazi hands.[lxiii] Freikorps were viewed by Army leadership as an expedient force that could not remain in the service once the Army was functional.

Key lessons include that the military cannot become a “state within a state,” and that both military and civilian leaders must seek to bridge any gulf that separates them in times of crisis.  In Weimar both the military and the Socialists thoroughly distrusted one another with the result that they eventually, despite early success[lxiv] worked against each other in later years.  Actions by both Socialists and the military ultimately subverted the Republic and ensured its demise and Seeckt’s policy of separation from politics “tended toward a renunciation of the soldier’s potential restraining influence on adventurous statesmen.”[lxv] Such is the fateful lesson for today.


[i] Jones, Nigel. The Birth of the Nazis: How the Freikorps Blazed a Trail for Hitler. Constable and Robinson Ltd. London, U.K. 1987 and 2004.  This is Jones assertion and he attempts to make the tie using careers of some individuals who served both in Freikorps and either in the Nazi Party or Military and attitudes common in many Freikorps with similar attitudes found in the Nazi movement.  The 2004 edition of his work includes an introduction by Michael Burleigh echoing his sentiments.

[ii] Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich. Penguin Group. London, U.K. and New York, NY. 2003. pp.227-229.  Evans discusses the fact that the Nazis did have a number of Freikorps veterans but at no point makes the connection that the Freikorps are a direct ancestor.

[iii] Ozment, Steven. A Mighty Fortress: A New History of the German People. Harper-Collins Publishers, New York, NY 2004 p.246

[iv] Gordon, Harold J. Jr. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1957.  Gordon’s work is perhaps the most detailed study involving the Freikorps and the Reichswehr. He is exceptional in discussing the relationship of both with the various political parties including the Nazis.  He refutes this assertion throughout the book.

[v] Bracher, Karl Dietrich. The German Dictatorship. Translated by Jean Steinberg. Praeger Publications, New York, NY 1970. Originally published as Die Deutsche Diktatur: Enstehung, Struktur, Folgen des Nationalsozialismus. Verlag Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Koln und Berlin. 1969. p.101

[vi] Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1954 pp. 91-92

[vii] Shepherd, Ben. War in the Wild East: The German Army and Soviet Partisans. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and London, U.K. 2004. p.28

[viii] Höhne, Heinz. The Order of the Death’s Head: The Story of Hitler’s SS. The Penguin Group, London U.K. and New York, NY 1969. Translated by Richard Barry. Originally Published as Der Ordnung unter dem Totenkopf. Verlag der Spiegel, Hamburg, 1966. p.54.

[ix] These include Macksey’s biographies of Kesselring and Guderian , Richard Giziowski’s The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Peter Padfield’s Dönitz: the Last Führer, David Fraser’s biography of Field Marshal Rommel Knight’s Cross, Messenger’s work on Von Rundsedt, The Last Prussian, and Höhne’s Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy all provide brief but interesting views of the actions and attitudes of these officers during the revolution and during the  Weimar period.

[x] Kesselring, Albrecht. The Memoirs of Field Marshal Kesselring with a new introduction by Kenneth Macksey. Greenhill Books, London UK. 1997. Translated from the German by William Kimber Ltd. Originally published as Soldat bis zum letzen Tag. Athenaum, Bonn, Germany 1953 pp.18-19

[xi] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945. Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers. p.200

[xii] Gordon, Harold Jr. The Reichswehr and the German Republic 1919-1926. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ 1957 pp.4-5 Gordon recounts the story of an entire replacement train revolting when it reached the front which had to be disarmed by a shock battalion.

[xiii] Watt, Richard M.  The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany: Versailles and the German Revolution. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY 1968. p.186

[xiv] Wheeler-Bennett, John W. The Nemesis of Power: The German Army in Politics 1918-1945. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY 1954. p.18

[xv] Herwig, Holger H. The First World War: Germany and Austria Hungary 1914-1918. Arnold Press a member of the Hodder-Headline Group, London, UK and New York NY 1997 p.445

[xvi] Ibid. Herwig. p.445

[xvii] Carsten, F.L. The Reichswehr and Politics 1918-1933. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK 1966 p.6.  It is noted by a number of author’s that Groener did this, to maintain the unity of Germany and prevent its division.

[xviii] Ibid. Watt. p.196  Watt notes Ebert’s reaction as being enraged as the proclamation of the Republic technically “invalidated the existing constitution; Germany was now technically without a government.” (p.197)

[xix] Ibid. Watt. p.197

[xx] Ibid. Watt. p.197

[xxi]Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz Hippocrene Books Inc. New York NY, 1997. p.65

[xxii] Craig, Gordon A. The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK 1955 pp.347-348.  Craig gives an interesting account noting the Groener’s call to Ebert shows recognition of the legitimacy of the new government and notes that the offer was somewhat conditional.

[xxiii] Dorpalen, Andreas. Hindenburg and the Weimar Republic. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. 1964 p.26

[xxiv] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.21

[xxv] Ibid. Gordon. p.15

[xxvi] Ibid. Carsten. p.11. This was of critical importance as Carsten later notes that the Army realized that the government could not survive without its support.  Groener was perhaps the officer who most recognized the situation and endeavored to ensure that “the best and the strongest element of the old Prussia, was saved for the new Germany, in spite of the revolution.” (p.12)

[xxvii] Ibid. Carsten. p.18 Carsten produces the bulk of the English translation of these points and notes that the anti-military feeling had become widespread.

[xxviii] Ibid. Giziowski. p.66  Giziowski recounts the speech of Hermann Goering in response to the announcement. This shows how such treatment can breed anger and resentment in a military that feels it has been betrayed after serving its country in a long and difficult war: For four long years we officers did our duty and risked all for the Fatherland. Now we have come home, and how do they treat us? The spit on us and deprive us of what we gloried in wearing. I will tell you that the people are not to blame for such conduct. The people were are comrades…for four long years.  No, the ones who have stirred up the people, who have stabbed this glorious army in the back…. I ask everyone here tonight to cherish a hatred, a deep and abiding hatred, for these swine who have outraged the German people and our traditions.  The day is coming when we will drive them out of our Germany.”

[xxix] Ibid. Gordon. p.15

[xxx] Ibid. Watt. p.168

[xxxi] Ibid. Gordon. pp. 19 and 24.  This was the 1st Marine Brigade, or Brigade Von Roden of which elements would later serve in under the command of other Freikorps such as the Guards Calvary Rifle Division.

[xxxii] Ibid. Gordon. p.14

[xxxiii] Ibid. Gordon. p.18

[xxxiv] Ibid. Watt. p.239

[xxxv] Ibid. Gordon. p.426

[xxxvi] Ibid. Watt. p.247

[xxxvii] Thee forces included the Landesjaegerkorps and Guards Cavalry Rifle division.

[xxxviii] Ibid. Gordon. p.30

[xxxix] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.36

[xl] This was one of two additional Naval Brigades formed by Noske after the success of Naval Brigade Von Roden.  It was one of the most combat effective but unfortunately violent and radical of the Freikorps, it would as we will see be a key unit in the Kapp Putsch but would not be absorbed into the Reichswehr.

[xli] This unit was not a Navy unit at all but was composed of many who were criminals and other rabble. See Gordon, Carsten and Watt.

[xlii] Jurado, Carlos Caballero. The German Freikorps 1918-23. Illustrated by Ramiro Bujeiro. Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK 2001 p.12

[xliii] Ibid. Gordon. p.42  His units were known as Security Companies.

[xliv] Ibid. Jurado. p.13

[xlv] Ibid. Gordon. pp.47-49. An estimated 550 people including 200 innocent bystanders were killed in the fighting.

[xlvi] Ibid. Dorpalen. p.29

[xlvii] Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975 p.45

[xlviii] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. pp.57-59

[xlix] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.216

[l] Ibid. Wheeler-Bennett. p.61

[li] Ibid. Carsten. p.74

[lii] Ibid. Carsten. pp.74-75

[liii] Ibid. Carsten. p.76  Another consideration is that Noske, Reinhardt and Seeckt all were seeking to retire Lüttwitz.

[liv] Ibid. Gordon. p.97

[lv] Ibid. Craig. p.376

[lvi] Ibid. Carsten. pp.78-79

[lvii] Höhne, Heinz. Canaris: Hitler’s Master Spy. Cooper Square Press, New York, NY 1979 and 1999. Translated from the German by J. Maxwell Brownjohn, Originally published in Germany by C. Bertelsmann Verlag Gmbh, München. 1976. p. 78.  Canaris also had been suspected of complicity in the murders of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht but was acquitted. (pp.56-71)

[lviii] Ibid. Gordon. pp.114-115

[lix] Among them Maercker who had been such a strong supporter of the Republic in the early days.

[lx] Ibid. Carsten. p.98

[lxi] Raeder, Erich. Grand Admiral. Translated from the German by Henry W. Drexell. United States Naval Institute, Annapolis MD, 1960. Da Capo Press edition published 2001. p.111. This is interesting as almost all histories implicate the Navy High Command of either some complicity or at least agreement with the Putsch participants.

[lxii] The final part in the drama would come when General Kurt Von Schleicher became the last Chancellor before Hitler.  Schleicher had assisted Groener and Noske in the early days of the Republic and often attempted to use the Army’s influence in politics. He was fatally short sighted and was a victim of the SS “night of Long Knives” which was directed against the SA.

[lxiii] Ibid. Jones. p.266  Others such as Gerhard Rossbach had similar experiences.  Korvettenkapitän Löwenfeld of the 3rd Naval Brigade became an Admiral, Wilhelm Canaris , who was implicated in the Kapp Putsch but kept his career would later head the Abwehr and die in a concentration camp.

[lxiv] Ibid. Gordon. p.426  Gordon has a good discussion of this topic in his conclusion.

65 Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Published 1948 B.H. Liddell-Hart, Quill Publications, New York, NY. 1979. p.18 Liddell-Hart’s analysis of the results of the Reichswehr’s disconnection from the larger society and political process is remarkable due to current trends in the American military which like the Reichswehr has become somewhat more conservative and disconnected from society, exceptionally technically proficient but not adept in politics or grand-strategy.

 

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